Reviewed by Joelene Pynnonen
Welcome to Barley Day. Eat, drink, and be merry—for tomorrow you will die.
When the chance comes up to visit the former home of the late legendary (fictional) writer Edward Addington, Eamon Buckley jumps at it. Winterset Hollow, Addington’s timeless tale of courage, love, and friendship, was one of the major factors in Eamon navigating his lonely and neglected childhood. Passing up the possibility of seeing the island that inspired this story is impossible. And what better day to go than Barley Day? The one day in the year that all the characters in the book celebrate with their loved ones?
Once Eamon and his closest friends, Caroline and Mark, arrive on Addington Isle they realize that the truth of Edward Addington’s life might be stranger than his fiction. And, too late, they find that coming to the island might have been a mistake—and it might just cost them their lives.
Winterset Hollow by Jonathan Edward Durham is a complicated and difficult book to pin down in a review. It’s the kind of whirlwind story that spirits you off in one direction and, just as you’re comfortably settling in for the ride, buffets you wildly into a different tale. A mix of quirky, wholesome, and horrific. This novel crosses genres in a way I’ve seldom seen before. And each of the genres is handled superbly.
The relationships in Winterset Hollow are wonderfully drawn, protagonist and antagonist alike. Durham weaves friendships, alliances, and hostilities between his characters with rare skill. In some novels, seeing the vulnerabilities in the antagonist would weaken the story. Here, it enhances it, makes the horror elements starker and breaks your heart just a little. The story never forgets that every character has depth and complexity. And all of the characters feel justified in their actions.
The horror aspects of the novel are fantastic as well. The fact that the relationships are built on such solid foundations cements the horror in place. All of the characters are stuck in their trauma: working through it, giving in to it, or just going with the path of least resistance in the hopes of avoiding any more pain. It’s awful and confronting and terrifying because it uses fiction as a mirror of reality.
I couldn’t help but feel bothered by how many close calls there are, though. The character knows they are dead in a certain situation…but then they aren’t. Yet, on finishing, I was incensed to find the novel was done. I wanted more. A flashback chapter to flesh out the things that weren’t on the page. An extra short story. Something. The story was done; I just wasn’t done with it.
Winterset Hollow might have a kind of slow-burn start, but once it gets going, it’s a gripping read. I love the relationship between Eamon and his friends. The casual camaraderie that runs deep. The way the main characters think and feel is also a wonderfully refreshing experience.
Winterset Hollow is as uplifting as it is confronting. A thoroughly enjoyable journey and a fantastic destination. It’s the kind of book that holds enough back that it leaves you desperate for more. I’ll be keeping an eye out for anything else by this author.
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