In the mornings, when my thoughts have not yet arranged themselves into their familiar malevolent shapes and the day is still unformed, I wake up before dawn and sheath myself in layer upon layer of coarse, heavy clothing, and walk deep into the woods while my eyes adjust to the velvety darkness.
I hadn’t heard of this novel or the author until Two Dollar Radio contacted me asking if I wanted a review copy. Any book described as ‘witchy’ and ‘unnerving’ which also discusses nature and isolation is bound to be right up my street, so I jumped at the chance to read this – and I’m so glad I did. I’m mainly surprised that this isn’t being talked about more widely; I thought it was an incredible read. It might be the best fiction I've read this year so far.
At the Edge of the Woods is Kathryn Bromwich’s first novel, and as a debut this really is stunning, oozing with skill and talent. The writing is as vivid and immersive as the forest Laura finds herself living in, and the overall effect is a haunting, visceral novel which I wanted to climb right inside of. I was captivated by Laura’s world and felt like I got dragged out of it just when I was ready to settle in. This is a book to be read slowly, carefully, quietly – each sentence to be savoured.
At the Edge of the Woods tells the story of Laura, living by herself in a run-down cottage at – you guessed it – the edge of the woods. We learn about her life through snippets, seeing snapshots of Laura’s life as she ventures down to the village and attempts conversation with the locals. As the story progresses, we see Laura fall deeper into the clutches of the wild land surrounding her, and as she does so tensions rise between her and the local villagers. Just when things feel like they are coming to a head, a visitor from Laura’s past suddenly appears.
As the life Laura has built for herself unravels, the narrative runs through themes of independence, womanhood, illness, community, and what it means to run away from everything you once knew. Bromwich treads a careful line between reality and the fantastical, never letting you quite know which side of it the story will fall. It’s told so precisely: the world is detailed and rich, but not one word is wasted.
For me, this combined the vivid lyricism of some of my favourite outdoor writers (Robert MacFarlane, Nan Shepherd, Helen Mort) with the uncanniness of some of my favourite fiction writers (Julie Armfield, Lucy Wood, Kirsty Logan).
Also, although I am not generally one to get excited about things like book design, this is beautifully produced which makes reading it feel extra luxurious. It’s a book I will definitely be coming back to, and I’m already excited to see what Kathryn Bromwich writes next.
Massive thanks to Two Dollar Radio for kindly sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.
Predominantly climbing/outdoors literature, mountaineering history and nature writing.