Blurb: The worst thing possible has happened. Richard and Juliette Willoughby’s son, Ewan, has died suddenly at the age of five. Starve Acre, their house by the moors, was to be full of life, but is now a haunted place.
Juliette, convinced Ewan still lives there in some form, seeks the help of the Beacons, a seemingly benevolent group of occultists. Richard, to try and keep the boy out of his mind, has turned his attention to the field opposite the house, where he patiently digs the barren dirt in search of a legendary oak tree.
Starve Acre is a devastating new novel by the author of the prize-winning bestseller The Loney. It is a novel about the way in which grief splits the world in two and how, in searching for hope, we can so easily unearth horror.
We all cope with grief in different ways. Some, like Richard, bury themselves in work and ‘projects’, pushing dark thoughts away in a kind of manic numbness. Others, like Juliette, focus entirely on what they have lost; as if by hoping and wishing and praying, or just performing the right sequence of actions, or wanting it enough, they can reverse the loss and everything will go back to what it was ‘before’.
Juliette’s sister is determined that Juliette can be jollied, or bullied, into moving on, but Juliette has found some spiritualists that she believes can help her move backwards instead. Richard just want to not think about it all, or deal with it all. He feels Juliette should just be left to get on with what she needs to do, and he will do the same. What he feels he needs to do is find an ancient hanging tree in the nearby field. But there are some very bad rumours about that particular field, and that tree…
Starve Acre is an eerie ghost story that carries with it the chill of winter and the bleak coldness of death in equal measures. It soon becomes clear that while both parents are focused on the loss of their young child; their house and the land around it has other ideas about what they need. Very, very dark ideas.
This isn’t a very long story – more of a novella than a novel – and the ending manages to be abrupt, unsettling and utterly haunting, after a long, slow build-up to the final shock.
Strangely, considering the tragic content and disturbing paranormal elements, the aspect of the book that stayed with me longest after I finished reading was Richard’s complete acceptance of his wife’s emotional derangement as everyone else attempted to change it. He is so clearly lost himself that he has lost sight of what is normal, or healthy, and simply accepts that wrongness is the new normal for both of them now. His calm support in the face of logic, his own beliefs, and a complete contradiction to his own coping mechanisms is both admirable and upsetting, and has haunted me more than any ghost!
Starve Acre is a gently insidious horror story that creeps in and makes a home in your brain, like a wild animal seeking shelter from the cold. Be sure before you let it in, because you can never go back to how things were ‘before’.
Richard left the sentence he’d been mulling over half typed, moved to the armchair next to the bookshelves and switched on the radio. One of the Brandenburg Concertos was in full flow. He put on his headphones and turned up the volume until the strings and horns were distorted, trying to lose himself in the noise and banish Ewan to the dark hole from which he had emerged. If he had to be absent, then why couldn’t he remain so? A blank could be coped with, just as a man might become used to a missing hand or foot and improvise a way of living until it became a habit and habit a kind of normality.
– Andrew Michaell Hurley, Starve Acre