“The earth quakes, the graves burst open, the dead arise and stream on in endless procession.”
I only read horror and/or books related to the horrific during the month of October, and as I was perusing lists of good fright fests for people who are similarly OCD when it comes to Halloween, I came across a blurb for Marcus Sedgwick’s White Crow that described it as dark and terrifying. I like dark and terrifying, and I also like Marcus Sedgwick, so I promptly checked it out from my place of employment. White Crow is a set of three distinct narratives. Two of the narratives reside in present day, told from the points of view of two young women, one a seemingly fey and outcast brainiac, and one a teenage girl sent to the seaside town of Winterfold for a fateful summer. The third narrative is from the point of view of a pastor sucked into a dark obsession with a French doctor several hundred years in the past. All three stories take place in Winterfold, a town that is slowly falling into the sea on the coast of England, and as the three narratives unfold and overlap, it becomes apparent that, as per usual, Sedgwick is going to take us on a ride most sinister, this time delving into that great question of what happens to the human soul after its physical body dies.
I’ve read four books by Sedgwick now, and of the four only one of them has a linear, cohesive plot. It seems that one of his favorite themes is the ways in which stories cast echoes over hundreds and sometimes thousands of years; the link of past and present through story almost creates a sense of time travel, and it’s something that Sedgwick does exceedingly well, though it does create a somewhat unique reading experience that may not appeal to absolutely everyone. Reading one of Sedgwick’s weirder offerings usually isn’t one of those totally immersive reading experiences in which each moment is pleasure; rather, he creates works that are best appreciated as a whole. The beauty is found once you’ve finished and can revel in all the threads connecting each story within story over an often immense span of time.
As I’ve said, I’ve read a good deal of Segwick, and while he’s almost always on the dark side, I’d say White Crow is far and away his most macabre offering I’ve encountered thus far. It’s basically a 200 page rumination on evil and death, with a dash of equal parts obsession and madness, i.e. your standard recipe for a good old fashioned Gothic tale. There’s even a sprinkling of secretly hedonistic preacher man who wears his cloak of Christianity to disguise a truly rotten, evil core, yet another of Sedgwick’s recurring themes.
All of these elements worked incredibly well together; it’s compelling and at times truly frightening, with some fairly heady examinations of some of the darker elements of human existence. However, I didn’t necessarily love this book, and that’s only because of the ending. It was abrupt and felt a bit rushed; I had a serious “wait, what?” moment as the conclusion unrolled which is rarely a good way to bid adieu to a book as far as I’m concerned. I’m not sure about you guys, but a poorly executed ending is almost more offensive to me than a slow start or a plodding middle; if I’ve loved a book up until the end only to be disappointed, it’s that feeling of disappointment that often sits with me.
Bottom line: this is a solid read for the Halloween season (or any time, if you don’t limit your horror intake to the month of October), but it’s not my favorite by Sedgwick thus far. Read if you like evil ass preachers, depravity up the wazoo, and lots and lots and lots of blood.
For music, let’s do “Zero” by Smashing Pumpkins because there is a lyric from that song that is more or less transplanted into the novel. (And God is empty, just like me.)
And also, even though I know I’ve already used this song for Margo Lanagan’s The Brides of Rollrock Island, let’s do “Dunwich” by Electric Wizard because I guess this book was actually inspired in part by a crazy fuck who carried out the beheading experiment (YOU WILL GET THIS IF YOU READ THE BOOK) in Dunwich.