Wylding Hall is a pretty short novel with an interesting structure. It’s told as if it’s a series of interviews — possibly for radio or just for someone who would later transcribe them for a book, as they’re spontaneous and involve people revealing details they’re not sure of, or don’t want to share too widely. That in itself is fascinating: the range of narrators, the different angles on the same events, the little pieces of the puzzle. And the relationships between them revealed in the way they talk about the other characters. Sometimes it doesn’t quite work for me; some of the character voices are a little too similar. But for the most part, I enjoyed it and it was well-handled.
The pacing was well-handled too, in my opinion; it slowly builds up a sense of unease, then uncanniness, and then lets little moments of horror break through — distanced by time, because of the setting, but nonetheless chilling. It never really goes beyond unsettling for me; the characters are too distant from the events.
In the end, it’s entirely inconclusive, which is something I really like in uncanny fiction. Was there a girl? Was she real or a ghost, what exactly happened? Were the experiences real or drug-fuelled? What exactly even caused the haunting — the barrow? It seems like it, and yet. And yet.
If you’re interested in folk music (I was thinking of Fairport Convention the whole time), then that aspect also adds some interest. I wish the band were real, because the music sounds awesome.
For all that it’s short and inconclusive, I found it satisfying: it leaves me with just the right amount of uncertainty, just the right amount of mystery, without feeling like it’s unfinished. It’s, in the end, a recounting of one of those senseless events that changes everything, random and wrenching, and that you then look back on and wonder how exactly it even happened. It doesn’t always have to be a ghost story — there’s unexplained events in real life too, after all — but it works well this way.