The Woman In The Wood by Lesley Pearse
The lives of teenage twins Maisy and Duncan change forever the night their sick mother is taken to an asylum. Sent to live in the New Forest with their cold-hearted grandmother, Mrs Mitcham, they feel unloved and abandoned.
And when one day Duncan doesn’t come home from exploring in the forest, no one – least of all his grandmother – appears to care about his disappearance. The police, who’ve found the bodies of other missing boys, offer little hope of finding Duncan alive.
Yet Maisy refuses to give up. Though she doesn’t know the woods well, she knows someone who does. The strange old woman who lives at their heart.
Dare Maisy enlist the help of the woman in the wood?
I am a huge fan of Lesley Pearse. I still remember fondly the emotional rollercoaster that was, Remember me and it was 16yrs ago that I read it. She has such a wealth of novels in her back catalogue now, I wonder how she finds inspiration for new plot lines and characters. When I originally picked up The Woman In The wood, the cover and synopsis has an almost Hansel and Gretel feel to it.
I will say this, this is the darkest novel I have ever read by Lesley Pearse. I was quite taken aback in parts.
The novel opens in West London 1960, twins Maisy and Duncan witness their mother being taken from the house in the middle of the night. They are aware that she is destined for the asylum and are unsure of what their futures hold. Their mother Lily has been bed bound since a riding accident 12yrs ago. However, we the reader become aware Lily’s infirmity is not physical but more mental health.
The twins are eventually taken by their father Alastair to his mother’s home Nightingales, in the New Forest. Grandma Mitcham is what I would call a cantankerous battle axe. She is cold in her approach and demeanour towards the children and they find sanctuary in the arms of housekeeper Janice.
The twin’s father is also cold and distant; and it is clear to see that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
‘Even our parents don’t like us much’ – Maisy
Despite the upheaval and bleak future. The twins like most children are resilient. They learn to make the most of their new life at Nightingales. Duncan loves to explore the wilderness of their remote, isolated location. The begin to spy on local recluse Grace and have lessons with Mr Dove. Mr Dove is a wheelchair bound veteran of ww2, who despite the challenges he has faced in life, remains to hold a positive outlook on life. He even attempts to get them to understand their father better. By teaching them about parenting and learnt behaviour. Although at times this seems wasted on Maisy who remains angry at her parent’s behaviour.
‘Maybe her accident has always been just an excuse o stay away from everyone’ – Maisy
Mr Donald Grainger is a regular visitor to the estate. He is Grandma Mitcham’s solicitor. He advises her when she spitefully decides to disinherit Alastair, choosing Duncan to inherit, her wealth and land. My Grainger is the only person aside from Janice that we see, who appears to tolerate Grandma Mitcham. She is often spiteful and nasty in her character assassinations of others, especially the twin’s mother Lily.
Duncan eventually builds up the courage to conversate with Grace and a friendship of weekly visits blossoms.
When Duncan goes missing, she is Maisy’s first port of call. . .
‘Do you know, he’s the only person I’ve talked to properly in ten years or more. I frightened everyone else off’ – Grace
With Grandma Mitcham and her father refusing to take Duncan’s disappearance seriously. Maisy must strike out on her own and find clues. When her grandmother forbids her from anymore searches. Her father slaps her and blames her for Duncan’s disappearance. Maisy decides to leave Nightingales and take a role as nanny in Brighton.
It’ll be many years before she returns. . . .
‘It’s difficult to respect someone who shows no interest in you’ – Maisy
In the two years of Maisy’s absence there has been the discovery of several bodies of missing boys. Maisy decides once and for all, she needs closure. She returns to Nightingales, seeking to find her twins body, giving him the proper burial he deserves.
Maisy and Grace meet again; and we learn more of Grace’s background and why she lives so reclusively. They form an unlikely pair of investigators. But between the twin’s bond and their bond with Grace they set out to bring Duncan home.
This saga novel is very dark in places, it deals with some heavy and emotive themes. But above all else it is a story of families, survival and hope! 5*