Hyddenworld by William Horwood

Hyddenworld is the first in a quartet of novels by William Horwood about the 'hydden' - the small people who live undetected alongside humans in their own 'hydden' world. This isn't a new idea, and that was actually what appealed to me. I'm not a great fan of high fantasy but I do have a long-held fascination with the long-established folklore that suggests that humans share England with another species of people, and that there are secret portals between the two worlds, or perhaps, the two consciousnesses. That, primarily, was why I picked up Hyddenworld.

Those who have read William Horwood's other novels, which include Duncton Wood and Skallagrig, will know that he has a track record of writing beautifully about myth and folklore, both real and invented. Hyddenworld is no exception, weaving human and hydden mythology (and geography) skilfully together in a rich tapestry that is by turns lyrical, exciting, thoughtful, unsettling and occasionally hilarious. Horwood tells the story simply, but with the right level of well-chosen detail, and his characters and the landscapes they inhabit are vividly brought to life. The hydden characters, in particular, are worthy of comparison to the creations of Mervyn Peake. Tweed-clad genius Bedwyn Stort, who once survived a period trapped in a lift shaft by memorising and eating a national railway timetable page by page; obese aesthete Festoon and his loyal chef and soulmate Parlance; bitter, vengeful, dangerously ambitious Brunte - each and every one of them is a gem.

Some reviews have pointed out that the human characters, Katherine and Jack, are rendered less richly. This may be true - certainly they lack the larger-than-life eccentricities of the hydden. But their love story, central to the plot, is no less touching and significant for it, and I found that I cared deeply about their fate. Perhaps they don't talk or behave quite like normal teenagers, but that's because they aren't. Although there is an authenticity to the stumbling, awkward start to their relationship, this isn't meant to be social realism and the story demands that there is a hint of otherness about them both.

Hyddenworld isn't always the fastest-paced novel, particularly in the first half of the narrative, but not once did I feel that the story dragged. Although the narrative does more or less stand alone in terms of plot, I was certainly left wanting more - but of course, this is the first in a planned four-book series, so that's as it should be. Apparently, each of the four novels will be themed around the seasons, with the first being spring. Anyone who knows me is well aware that I'm really not a hot weather person, but in the case of the Hyddenworld quartet I'll make an exception and admit that I can't wait for the summer.

Comments

  1. Just requested this at my library after reading your review (requested rather than bought due to current unemployment poverty). Another excellent review Jo.

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  2. I always get a bit worried when people buy books on my recommendation, in case they totally disagree with me and hate them and feel they've wasted their money, so I'm glad you've gone down the library route. I did, however, absolutely love it, as you can probably tell. In an odd sort of way that I can't quite describe, when I was reading it I almost felt like I was reading a brilliant children's book, but for grown-ups. If that makes any sense at all.

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  3. The Hyddenworld books are superb - more dreamlike & lyrical than the Duncton sextet.

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