Black Wood by SJI Holliday: Review

Kettlemag, Alex Goode, black wood, review
Written by littlegoode

Holliday quotes Nietzsche at the beginning of her novel. She references the darkness that exists inside every individual, but also the promise that someone out there will understand that darkness and make it beautiful. In other words, people do bad things but, often, those bad things are understandable and justifiable to some.

Black Wood is a dark and disturbing story told mostly from the perspective of Jo, a troubled young woman who has never overcome the death of her parents and a mysterious incident in the woods that left her childhood best friend, Claire, disabled. It’s a twisted story with many surprises that slowly reveal themselves. I hated it and couldn’t stop reading it in equal measure.

Black Wood: The plot

The story is told in bits and pieces, the most interesting and comprehensive bits through Jo’s eyes, but also with third person narratives from other characters in the novel, and segments from the past about ‘the boys’ and the way they ‘hunt’ the younger girls through the woods. It’s clear from the beginning that Jo and Claire experienced something terrible in the woods when they were children, and that the attack left Claire in a wheelchair. Jo’s conviction early on that the returned Gareth Maloney is one of the boys from the wood leads her determination to discover the truth, pulling charming police sergeant Davie Gray into the mix.

The small town setting is nice, as always with crime and murder mystery novels. The many secrets that surface in a small town are scandalous in their own way and make for juicy reading. Holliday’s many characters intertwine well and don’t get confusing. Each has their own problems that become part of Jo’s bigger, darker, more devastating search. The clues are good and gradual and the ending dramatic enough to be satisfying.

Readable but not polished

As novels go, Black Wood is enjoyable but probably not for anyone with a particular reading taste. It’s Holliday’s debut novel and that shows in the quality of the writing and, sadly, even the editing. There are numerous grammar and spelling errors in the text that will frustrate anyone who is a writer themselves or just likes to think they’re a good authority on books.

Similarly, her descriptions are vivid and she writes humour well, but her dialogue often feels false and overworked. I doubt you would see ‘Nooooo!’ printed in most award-winning books. It isn’t enough to stop you reading – the plot and mystery are enticing enough to make you want to reach the end – but it certainly stands out. This is very much a novel to pick up and read on holiday or to quickly pass the time. If you’re post-degree or looking for something complex, the inconsistencies will likely only ruin your reading experience.





One to watch

Like many new authors, Holliday’s debut shows great promise. Her plot and story are clever and intricately worked. She has a capacity to present the dark and disturbing side of humanity as well as build very real and loving relationships between her characters. All of this points towards someone who has a great future ahead of her in the crime genre although, personally, I hope that she also considers venturing into psychological thrillers, pushing mental boundaries and exploring why people do the terrible things they do. Currently, Holliday’s style of fiction seems to conflict between her intense delving into people’s dark pasts and prose that seems more reflective of chick lit novels. So really, Holliday could go either way.