“Above the silent rooms on the third floor there is an attic. I know this because I have stood outside and studied the house, the way you study a person’s face to tell if they are telling the truth or a lie.” (Loc 696)
Northern Irish writer Paul Kearney has written a number of novels beginning with A Different Kingdom in 1993. He went on to write The Monarchies of God series (1995-2002), and The Macht trilogy (2008-2012), which are both rated highly on book review sites and blogs. The Wolf in the Attic was released in May, 2016.
England, 1929. Anna Francis, a 12-year-old refugee from Greece, lives with her father in a big, old house in Oxford. She is taught by a home tutor and confides in her doll Penelope. After witnessing a shocking event in the fields near her house, she becomes mixed up in a strange adventure involving her father, a couple of well-meaning Oxford professors, the Romany, and a mysterious group known only as “the Roadmen”.
The narrative is written from Anna’s point of view and Kearney gives her a believable voice. Anna is an intelligent young girl who has grown up listening to her father’s stories of the Greek myths. She is both childish and wise for her years, brave and sometimes foolish. She makes mistakes like any child, but she also surprises a few characters with her actions. Seeing the world through her eyes was very refreshing, and it is testament to Kearney’s storytelling skills just how easily the reader is drawn into Anna’s world.
“There is a way of looking at things when you are alone in the woods at night. You see more clearly the things at the corner of the eye, and hear all the little crackling noises, the saw of your own breath, even the thumping of your heart.” (Loc 2630)
Paul Kearney can write beautiful prose. The descriptions of the landscape in and around 1920’s Oxford are wonderfully realized. When the characters travel into the countryside, there is a real feeling of the wildness or otherness of nature, along with the thrill and danger of the unknown. We can feel a deep connection between the landscape and the characters as Kearney explores some of the ancient myths of England. He also hints at the possible origins of the Romany travellers who play a major role in the story.
I picked this book up on a whim as it sounded interesting – a 1920’s Oxford setting with C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as two of the characters. The book’s description hinted at a “fantastic world”, and I was intrigued by the main character being a young girl who was also a refugee. Furthermore, the book had received glowing praise from two authors whose work I enjoy: Dave Hutchinson and Adam Roberts.
I am very glad I found this book, or did the book find me? It has introduced me to another gifted storyteller whose work I will read more of. (I quickly picked up a copy of Kearney’s A Different Kingdom after finishing this book.) It reminded me a little of Robert Holdstock’s 1984 novel Mythago Wood in its combining of myth with landscape. I recommend The Wolf in the Attic to readers looking for a different kind of fantasy story, one with strong roots in the “real world” but also roots that go deeper into the ancient myths of Albion.
“He has a smile like the blade of a knife, and his eyes, when he smiles, close to two slots from which the silver light gleams, and the fire has no reflection there.” (Loc 2698)