Review: The Cormorant by Stephen Gregory

Rating: ★★★★☆


‘[An] artful first novel, reminiscent of the tales of Poe . . . Gregory uses a low-key style and subtle lyricism to build an atmosphere of nightmarish horror in a tale that could become a classic.’ – Publishers Weekly 

‘[A] first-class terror story with a relentless focus that would have made Edgar Allan Poe proud.’ – New York Times 

‘[N]o summary can do justice to the subtlety of Gregory’s first novel, with its fresh, vivid, sensual prose and its superb descriptive and evocative power. An extraordinary novel – original, compelling, brilliant.’ – Library Journal 

‘A work of tremendous self-assurance that leaves the reader with a lingering sense of unease and announces the arrival of a considerable new talent.’ – British Book News 

A young family receives a welcome surprise when old Uncle Ian dies and leaves them a cottage in north Wales. For Ian’s nephew and his wife Ann, it seems a stroke of incredible good fortune, enabling them to leave their unfulfilling lives in the city for a newfound freedom in the remote seaside cottage. There’s just one catch. Uncle Ian’s will has a strange condition: the couple must care for his pet cormorant or forfeit the bequest. They think nothing of it at first: Uncle Ian was eccentric, and the bird is amusing in a way. But when the cormorant begins to show a violent and malevolent side, they soon find that Uncle Ian’s gift may not be a blessing, but a curse. 

Stephen Gregory’s first novel, The Cormorant (1986), received widespread critical acclaim, winning the prestigious Somerset Maugham Award and earning comparisons to the works of Poe. This edition includes a new introduction by the author, in which he reveals how this enduring and haunting tale had its origins in his own experiences during a bleak Welsh winter.


Thanks to the narrator, Matt Godfrey, for a listening copy of The Cormorant in exchange for an honest review. Receiving this LC did not influence my thoughts or opinions on the novel.

To say The Cormorant was a very disturbing and oft times unsettling read is.. a severe understatement.

I know what you’re thinking: it’s just a freaking bird. What’s the harm?
Well, when things start taking a turn for the worse and our lovely little family starts behaving rather…oddly, that daggum bird is at the center of the madness.

Gregory paints descriptions of EVERYTHING in vivid color, though the atmosphere surrounding the story is quite bleak. Each room, chair, bookshelf… pool of sh*t (not making this up) is so rich in detail that you can feel yourself in the story, though I’d want to be the furthest away from that bird.

I’m pretty sure the last book that made me this uncomfortable was Nick Cutter’s ‘The Troop’, which I rated as one of the best horror novels I’ll never read again but can recommend it to everyone. It is sort of a weird category but makes sense if you ever get around to either of these books; and you should read both.

This book surely isn’t for everyone, but if you enjoy disturbing, “quiet” horror, I highly recommend giving this one a go.

I’ll also be totally honest here: I’ve listened to Matt’s narration on a couple of books now. Pacing is there, voice is smooth, and inflection is spot on. There is a reason he is quickly becoming a staple in horror and I, for one, am super excited to listen to the rest of his library.

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