The Crow Garden: Alison Littlewood

★★★

In 1856, the young doctor Nathaniel Kerner makes his way north to Crakethorne Manor in Yorkshire: his first placement as an alienist or mad-doctor. He hopes to find an asylum full of progressive ideas and enlightened leadership, but it soon transpires that the enlightened spa treatments and extensive gardens described in the brochures are fictions. Instead Crakethorne is governed by the unstable Dr Chettle, who eschews modern notions of treatment in favour of the questionable science of phrenology. His new home isn’t all that Nathaniel would have wished. And yet there is one aspect which captures his imagination: Victoria Adelina Harleston, his beguiling patient.

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The Hidden People: Alison Littlewood

★★★

I was intrigued by the premise of this novel. In the 1870s, a young woman is horribly murdered after her husband and neighbours take her for a fairy changeling. Stung into action, her London cousin comes north to Yorkshire to challenge these country superstitions and to uncover what really happened to little Lizzie Higgs. Having just finished reading The Essex Serpent, I hoped for a similarly deft conflict between popular belief and scientific reason. This juxtaposition is at the heart of the novel, but it didn’t quite pan out as expected. Instead, the book ambitiously tried to combine several genres – crime, fantasy, horror, supernatural and psychological thriller – without ever really committing to any of them.

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