This post has been long in the making. A month or two ago, I received an offer from a friend of mine – the estimable Thomas Brown of Hell’s Water, and Revive fame – in which I would receive an electronic copy of his new book, Lynnwood, before its release in exchange for my thoughts on it. Naturally, I leapt at the chance, having loved both of his previous novels (and eventually I’ll get around to his short stories, I promise!). Unfortunately, just after having received my copy, my last semester of university hit me like a truck and I was laid low for several weeks, only last week finally having the time to pick the book up and read it properly, after it has been released as an eBook.
And how glad I am I did! It very quickly reminded me of Hell’s Water, in that the book focuses in a very particular sin. Because of that similarity, as well as the presence of a Church in a rather central part of the story, I was expecting Christian theology in the same manner as the previous novel. To my delight, there was almost none of that, and Mr. Brown took off in a completely different, wild direction. Lynnwood was filled with many twists, turns, and surprises, and forced me to read the second half of the book in one sitting!
Lynnwood grabs you starting with its opening line, which, fittingly enough, involves a dead pig. The entire novel is perfectly encapsulated in the very first sentence, in which the corpse of a pig stirs strange feelings within the protagonist, the poor Freya. Freya lives in the titular town, Lynnwood, which slowly goes mad as winter approaches. The descent of the town into madness perfectly mirror Freya’s own descent into madness, so that the two seem like one and the same, which in many ways they are. For a very brief period, Lynnwood seems like a pleasant and wonderful place, in which everyone is happy and contented. The fast pace of the novel soon changes that, however, as everything that the town and the reader holds dear is ripped from them.
Lynnwood showcases Mr. Brown’s greatest strength as a writer, talents which manifested themselves in both Revive and Hell’s Water, but have really blossomed in Lynnwood. Mr. Brown is a master of character development and psychology; he is able to almost literally place the reader inside the heads of the characters, so that you are not reading their thoughts, you’re thinking them. The fast-paced and very accessible writing really help the reader become one with the characters, until it does not feel like you are reading the story, but experiencing it.
Along with this naturally comes a set of well-developed central characters who are extremely believable and seem very real, from their first, sane appearances until their final howls as primal madmen. I felt sympathy for each and every one of the characters, and felt their feelings almost as acutely as my own. Mr. Brown did a superb job of portraying the effects of the horror of Lynnwood on the main characters, and through them made me wonder what effect it would have had on me.
Mr. Brown also makes a sparse and very effective use of poetry and diary entries to add to the effect, and makes the world come even more to life. Even more impressive, however, was his command of epicurean language. His subtle descriptions of every item of food consume add a sense of horror and revulsion throughout the entire novel, and through them he manages to evoke the very hunger he writes about in his readers. The food becomes an unnoticed yet absolutely essential part of the story, and serves to demonstrate Mr. Brown’s mastery of the language.
My one, sole criticism of the novel is its lack of explanation. By no means does horror need to be explained, and in many – if not most – cases a lack of explanation enhances the fear. However, in this case, I was left slightly unsatisfied with the ending, as very little was explained. These explanations are by no means critical, and the story works very well without them, but I think it could have been more effective if the horror itself – the primal madness of the Forest – had been explored more, in addition to its effects on the characters.
But that minor point in no way takes away from the brilliance of Lynnwood. It is superbly written, superbly paced, and deeply unsettling. It is a very quick read, and thoroughly enjoyable. I very highly recommend it to any fan of horror. Visit Thomas Brown’s website here and then go buy yourself a copy of Lynnwood from one of the many links provided here!