The Magic Cottage by James Herbert

Posted on 19th April 2011 in Reviews

When a cute young couple go house hunting, away from the big smoke of London town, they find the property of their dreams in the shape of an idyllic, but dilapidated, cottage named Gramarye.

Tucked away in the harmonious folds of Hampshire’s New Forest, it initially seems out of the pair’s grasp. Luckily, a stipulation in the will of the late owner of the property that a ‘suitable person, or persons’ live in the cottage brings a welcome opportunity, and the couple are able to meet the cost of the house. So it is that they move into their charming dream home.

Gramarye is a quaint and cosy cottage, and the way that it blends with the forest and elements of nature which surround it set a pleasant scene. For a time the reader will also become no doubt jealous of what seems like a very cool place to live indeed.

With an immediacy to match the speed with which Midge and Mike fell in love with the property, cracks begin to appear (literally and figuratively) in their small piece of heaven. They hear sounds from the attic, and similar bumps and scraps, vague figures too are spotted lurking amongst the forest’s trees. These aberrations though are interspersed with equally pleasant occurrences, and are easily dismissed in their early days as being due to the change and pace of life in their new environs, of sleight of the mind, so life is deemed as mostly good for the couple for a while longer.

Soon the couple cross paths with the Synergists, a cult-like group of individuals who live at a temple they’ve created in Croughton Hall, a local manor house; soon they become intertwined with the group, and slowly its furtive intentions begin to unwind. The group are after something, something that Mike and Midge can give them, and are far more aware of the strangenesses going on than the new homeowners might possibly imagine.

The Magic Cottage is well paced, and its subtle story and events creep up on the reader like various foliage from the forest surrounding Gramarye. It also exudes a pleasant and dreamy nature to offer sharp contrast with those more unusual moments that do occur. As the title implies, there is a definite a sense of the magical here.

Herbert hints at the underlying horror, at times emphasising with slightly more momentous prose, but this is no power house of timber trembling, ectoplasm-leaking walls and electrifying spine-tumbling shocks.

It is a novel of discovery, and exploration too for the author, in the slightly more relaxed approach it takes from some of Herbert’s other more shock-propelled works such as The Fog. Nonetheless it’s an agreeable diversion of style taken, and one that goes toward creating such a spooky and mysterious atmosphere. A couple of Herbert’s later novels veer into the direction of the ‘air of reverie’ ambience conveyed here in The Magic Cottage, so for those seeking more works from the author’s catalogue that lean into this direction, this is an ideal companion piece to more recent books such as Once.

That’s not to say that it’s all enchanted undergrowth however. When the few moments of malevolence do pop-up they’re genuinely scary, and show the author’s mastery over such text. Whilst this title doesn’t excise those more pronounced aspects of horror that marked his earlier works, and for which he became traditionally known, and is definitely not as hardcore of some of his (especially earlier) offerings, The Magic Cottage definitely holds a valued, and lasting, appeal.


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