Review by John S:
The initial chapters of Mary Webb’s ‘The House in Dormer Forest’ are mildly entertaining. The novel is set in melancholy surroundings in rural Shropshire. Most of the leading characters are members of an extended family (and their servants), cooped up in a spooky old house. The grandmother and the loopy, ingratiating curate are particularly funny. Amber, the heroine, however, is dull and dreamy. The illustrator highlights the menacing aspects of several characters, including Enoch the handyman, together with the brooding atmosphere of house and forest.
Half way through the novel the tone switches from the Adams Family to Gossip Girl. One of the young men of the family starts carrying on with a servant girl. This scandalous behaviour releases a tide of suppressed passion, as others in the house, including Amber, begin their own search for love and fulfilment. I gave up shortly afterwards (at p. 203), finding the sentiments of the lovers, as described by Mary Webb, to be cloying in the extreme. The novel might have returned to the rails later, but I could not steel myself to find out. In his foreword, H.R.L. Sheppard praises Mary Webb’s nature mysticism. The action is interspersed with ethereal descriptions of the countryside. Amber and the morose handyman have a strong spiritual connection to the forest. I imagine it to be raining all the time. Mary Webb’s indigestible account of the loves and hates of a group of unbalanced, possibly inbred individuals, trapped in a claustrophobic rural hell, cannot have done much for Shropshire tourism.