Book Review: Spider From The Well by Tim Reed

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This is an interesting and uniquely framed story. It begins in modern-day England with an unnamed man and his wife taking a holiday in the New Forest and finding an old diary in an eerie ruined house. As they read it, they uncover the disturbing descent into madness of the Victorian-era man M. Hattern, a man bereaved by the loss of his wife who has recently moved to the New Forest with his daughter Elizabeth after a bequest in his late uncle's will. 

The book has very little dialogue, as you'd expect from predominantly diary entries of an increasingly deranged M. Hattern. It's written in first-person, mostly in past tense but with well-transitioned sections in present tense. Some of the sections later in the book drag a little, the ending inevitable and therefore slightly anti-climactic, but the final scene in modern-day England manages to redeem it partially if not completely. 

It looses a few points for me due to its cover – as an illustrator, I'm a bit of a stickler for well-made cover art – but by the same token, the bleak desaturated look to it fits the book pretty well.

I don't have much experience with weird fiction and cosmic horror, but my husband does, and he assured me that feeling unsettled whilst reading it was pretty normal. The story begins quite slowly, but rapidly increases in tension around the first quarter mark. What starts as hints of something not quite right grows into an overwhelming sense of dread and fringes of madness on the part of the diary's author in just a few short pages, and only accelerates from there. We, the readers, are introduced to a several unnatural creatures and an entity that seems at times uninterested in M. Hattern, and at others eager to impress and taunt him with his own impending descent into insanity and destruction. 

As the story progresses, its tone and content are eerily reminiscent of a blend of classic Lovecraftian horror and The Twilight Zone's surreal foreboding. Themes of isolation and insanity are understated but effective, leaving me with a sense of low-key anxiety during each break I took from reading to write my notes. 

The imagery is a stark juxtaposition of quaint English countryside and awe-inspiring alien landscapes. Vivid details are brought to each scene with frank, sparse descriptions, leaving the full horror of what M. Hattern is experiencing for the reader's mind to fill in – an effective technique, wielded with surprising dexterity considering Tim's then-inexperience in such a difficult genre to get pull off.

 

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