Ginger Nuts of Horror
'There is a power in stories, a power to root themselves into a nation's subconscious and an ability to take on a life of their own. James Brogden's The Hollow Tree uses one such story as the basis for his latest novel from Titan Books. Based on the true story of infamous Bella in the Wych Elm, The Hollow Tree uses this fascinating legend as the foundation for a chilling folk horror ghost story about the compelling nature of story and belief.
When Rachel Cooper suffers a horrific accident that results in one of her hands being amputated her idyllic married life is thrown into turmoil. Haunted by nightmares of a woman trapped in a hollow tree, her marriage and her sanity are soon threatened by a world beyond ours as the mystery surrounding Bella begins to unfold and the real power of myths is unleashed on our reality.
The Hollow Tree while not a direct sequel to last years excellent Hekla's Children, can be view as a companion novel. Both of them deal with the notion that there are worlds beyond ours, shielded from ours by the thinnest of veils that can't always keep our worlds separate. Where Hekla's Children was a more full-on folk horror novel, The Hollow Tree is slightly more restrained work, but nevertheless, it is still a highly enjoyable ghost story with enough thrills and chills to keep the reader wanting more.
Brogden carefully keeps the supernatural elements of the story to a bare minimum during the initial phase of the novel. Instead, he focuses on the stress and strains of Racheal's relationship to her husband Tom as a result of the accident. It's a clever move as it serves to ground the story and the dynamics between the pair of them in a sensitive and believable manner, allowing for you to become invested in their relationship, as the story unfolds.
When the focus of the story moves away from the domestic drama, and the supernatural element kicks in full force Brogden takes on an ingenious trip to The Umbra. The Umbra is a wild place, filled with dark magic, a place where the dispossessed dead exists, clinging onto the boundary spaces between the two worlds that have special meaning to them. But The Umbra is so much more; it's a place where our myths, legends, and stories go, a place the power of belief can be harnessed by those in the stories to cement their power and their existence in the Umbra. It's a bewitching premise which allows for some excellent twists and turns as the story unfolds. Forgive me for being a vague here, but trust me the less you know about certain aspects of the narrative, the more enjoyment you will get as the story unfolds.
Without giving too much away, Brogden has created a unique and utterly compelling supernatural threat. As he says we all have our death, but we might not be able to choose it. He utilises the urban legend of Bella to great effect, drawing on the foremost myths and theories behind who Bella was a Nazi spy, a gypsy witch or a prostitute. Brogden even manages to use the much-maligned dream sequence method of storytelling to great effect as a means to introducing us to the three different facets of who Bella is.
Sometimes the ending of a story is the hardest thing to get right, many stories fizzle out, or feel unresolved, or god forbid end too quickly. The Hollow Tree has one of the best endings I have had the pleasure of reading in many a long year, Rachel's fate is is perfect and filling and will have you running the full spectrum of emotions as her fate is revealed.
The Hollow Tree is a gripping supernatural thriller, filled with great ideas, a fresh take on the tried and trusted ghost story, and a genuinely unique Big Bad Monster. A sympathetic and fitting extension to the myths surrounding Bella in the Wych Elm.
GUEST POST THE HOLLOW TREE BY JAMES BROGDEN