For readers of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES or THE GIRLS, a story of two extraordinary, magnetic women and their disappearances – a hundred years apart – from the small New England town they call home.
Henrietta and Jane are growing up in a farmhouse on the outskirts of town, their mother a remote artist, their father in thrall to the folklore and legend of their corner of New England. When Henrietta falls under the spell of Kaus, an outsider and petty criminal, Jane takes to trailing the couple, spying on their trysts, until one night, Henrietta vanishes into the woods.
Elspeth and Claire are sisters separated by an ocean. Elspeth’s pregnancy at seventeen meant she was quickly married and sent away from her Scottish village to make a new life in America. When she comes to the attention of the local mill owner, a series of wrenching and violent events unfolds, culminating in her disappearance.
As Jane and Claire search in their own times for their missing sisters, each uncovers the strange legend of Cold Thursday, and of a family apparently transformed into coyotes. But what does his myth really mean? Are their sisters dead, destroyed by the men who desired them? Or have they made new lives, elsewhere, beyond the watchful eyes of the community they longed to escape?
If you love a novel you can really get caught up in that will make you think about its characters long after you’ve finished reading it, then The Den might be your next favourite read. I’m always a sucker for any book that’s got the slightest connection to Scotland and I was really drawn in by Elspeth’s story in particular. I love books that transport me in time and place and I read this across a sunny Scottish weekend – totally losing myself in New England and Abi Maxwell’s fantastic sense of atmosphere in this immersive and haunting read.
The Den ‘s clever pairing of these two sets of sisters is a clever device that allows you to draw parallels and see the differences between their relationships across time and miles as both stories unfold in a dreamlike and intriguing way. The connecting device of ‘Cold Thursday’ was something that really drew me in as I love myths and legends and felt like this otherworldly tale of a family who turn into coyotes is successful in making us think about the parallels with predatory behaviours and their consequences in the sisters’ lives. This narrative form was very more-ish and several nights kept me up much later than I’d intended with a real sense of ‘just one more chapter…
The strong plotting and skilful characterisation combine to draw you into a story bursting with secrets and the combination of myth and reality are used to strong effect. Abi Maxwell has a deft and distinct turn of phrase and recreates distinct thought patterns very skilfully in order to make them come to life in these pages. This is a slow and satisfying read, where you never really feel you get the chance to get to know these characters fully, which only increases their believability for me.
I enjoyed the mysterious atmosphere and the addictive sense that you are only ever seeing part of the picture as we follow events to their tragic conclusion. It’s hard to write about The Den with no spoilers, but I’ve tried really hard as this is a book that you really need to experience for yourself. There have been lots of comparisons to The Virgin Suicides and it’s easy to see why – there is that same mesmeric and dreamlike quality that really makes you effortlessly fall under this novel’s spell.
If you want a challenging and beautifully written book that asks you to think for yourself and trusts you to come to your own conclusions about subjects such as loyalty, families and loss, you’ll love this book and I know a few book-loving friends who are definitely going to be pinching it from me for their holidays. I’d like to thank Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in the Blog Tour, I’m sure you’ll agree it looks absolutely gorgeous in my #OnTheShelfie
Writer On The Shelf
Abi Maxwell is the author of an acclaimed story collection, LAKE PEOPLE, and her fiction has also appeared in McSweeney’s. She studied writing at the University of Montana and now lives in New Hampshire, where she grew up, with her husband and son.