When Alice was born, her eyes were black from end to end, and the midwife didn’t stay long enough to wash her. (Kindle loc. 221)
My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways. (loc. 37)
Holy cats, you guys. This book and my reaction to it are probably going to fall down around my ears like a pack of playing cards or a straw house, but for the moment I am in love.
The Hazel Wood is about Alice and her mother Ella, and her grandmother Althea’s book of stories, and the hidden place where her grandmother lives. It’s about never putting down roots, but it’s also about being rooted in family and discovering you’ve been uprooted. It’s a story about stories: where they may come from, their meanings, their hidden places, their creators, the people who tell them and the people they belong to (and those two categories often don’t overlap), it’s about the theft of stories, and about the stories we tell ourselves and each other about every action in our lives.
But this story had no allegiance to anything. It was winding and creepy and not even that bloody. There were no heroes, no wedding. No message. (loc. 1165)
I may have guessed the twist fairly early on — or part of it, anyway — but I got blindsided by another one I should have seen coming and I cared about Alice (and to some extent Ella) and what was happening to them. What was going to happen. How, or if, they were going to get out of the situation they’d found themselves in. What Alice was going to do as she got deeper and learned more and more of the truth. Whether Alice’s rage was going to overwhelm them. How, exactly, Ellery Finch fit in the whole thing.
His hair grew in every direction, and his eyes were caffeinated and quick, a brown a few shades lighter than his skin. (loc. 491; Alice describing Ellery)
And there are stories within the larger story, stories Althea captured in a tome that captured Finch and released dark creations like a “bird [that] folded itself back into a tiny wedge of nightmare.” (loc. 1245) These fairy tales are the so-called ‘old’ kind, the ones where only a clever girl who keeps her wits about her and keeps moving might make it to the end unpunished, but she may be the one doing the punishing as well, where incest and cannibalism lurk around the corner and not always symbolically. Two of these stories are available to the reader after the end of the book and their endings are not happy.
There were a few places where Albert’s style got a little heavy-handed working in fairy-tale references, and Alice read a little older than 17 to me (on the other hand, I was a sheltered child, so I could easily be wrong). For the most part, though, the writing is smooth and lyrical and the darkness between the words gradually seeps up through the paper like blood into a paper towel (capillary action).
If you liked The Night Circus or Circus of Brass and Bone for their tone rather than the specific setting you’ll probably like The Hazel Wood; same if you like off-kilter retold fairy tales. Stories where there’s flashes of dark in the light places and holes of light in the dark places. (The second book is due January 2020 and I’ve already pre-ordered it.)