Review: Witch Bottle by Tom Fletcher

Rating: 7/10

Synopsis

A deeply atmospheric literary horror novel about the nature of repressed guilt, grief and fear.

Daniel once had a baby brother, but he died, a long time ago now. And he had a wife and a daughter, but that didn’t work out, so now he’s alone. The easy monotony of his job as a milkman in the remote northwest of England demands nothing from him other than dealing with unreasonable customer demands and the vagaries of his enigmatic boss.

But things are changing. Daniel’s started having nightmares, seeing things that can’t possibly be there – like the naked, emaciated giant with a black bag over its head which is so real he swears he could touch it . . . if he dared.

It’s not just at night bad things are happening, either, or just to him. Shaken and unnerved, he opens up to a local witch. She can’t t discern the origins of his haunting, but she can provide him with a protective ward – a witch-bottle – if, in return, he will deliver her products on his rounds.

But not everyone’s happy to find people meddling with witch-bottles. Things are about to get very unpleasant . . .

Witch Bottle is literary horror at its finest, perfect for fans of Andrew Michael Hurley’s The Loney and Starve Acre.

Review

This novel grips, tugs, claws at you from the very first page – a scene of bleak horror as the giant feasts on flesh – then a jarring plummet into reality. Fletcher really displays intelligent, fresh writing from the get go and shows off his ability to present you with real horror up front so you know what you’re in for. The mundane is turned to the intriguing, with a first person POV that takes you through his greyed, miserable every day life but keeps you guessing, wondering when it will all turn horrible – and trust me, it really does.

Daniel aspires to be a fantasy author (a line right out of my own life, that is immediately relatable, for me, at least. So huge points here), and his outlook on his surroundings, the goings on in his life and his past seem to take on a moody tinge. Bleak greys, blacks and shades of something worse litter his outlook – but at the same time they’re given a fantastical edge as we literally experience the plot through the lens of an author. One that garnishes life with a writer’s touch. His outlook is as poor as the job he works pays. Yet, it is this voice that pulls you through, ever intrigued by the sightings of the figure and his new witch girlfriend, who sells Witch Bottles to the locals, delivered on by Daniel on his milk round. The whole town is troubled by – literally – their own ghosts. There’s something deeper wrong, something that Daniel finds himself mixed up with.

The character is complex, clearly multi-layered. We see the past blend into the present. Questions unanswered about why his wife and daughter don’t live with him. Fletcher does a great job at crafting a believable story for Daniel, one that keeps you guessing, wondering whether it has any reflection on what is happening to him and those around the town. He’s certainly not of sound mind, or that is the way I interpreted it. The great thing is that it is up for debate. Or at least in my opinion. After his run in with the Fallen Stock men, reality folds and the plot develop in a sinister way that is sure to grip readers of the genre, to drag them into the pit with him.

A startling vision of death – a mystery that is truly grotesque but the way it is worked into the norm, into reality, was one of my favourite parts of the book. The part that was the most harrowing. The promise that if you looked just under the surface, there’s something waiting. Something that wants the characters.

The prose is grey, glum and clever. Word choice is what can make or break a first person POV book as this directly ties into the character and the general theme of the work – here I thought it worked perfectly in conveying those themes, tuning into the character’s outlook than perhaps the words on the page.  A true nuanced voice of character. Daniel’s personality through in full, depressing force.

A note on the ending, by the latter half of the book I felt like I could see it coming. I don’t read horror often, but I do like to be surprised – which I wasn’t as it finished. It was rather the way I expected things to go down. And in a very abrupt fashion. It did suit the book though, and has the effect of leaving the readers mystified but perhaps if it had drawn to more of a conclusion of plotlines, I would have rated it higher.

Overall, I really did enjoy this one – it made me want to seek out similar books more. I can’t really relate it to anything I’ve read lately but it certainly does intrigue, it certainly is fresh and it certainly is worth the read (if you don’t mind a bit of gore – there is nastiness in droves towards the end.)

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