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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Light and Dark, 11 Feb. 2004
By 
Eric Anderson (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Paperback)
Benedick Hunter is having what at first appears to be a middle-aged crisis. He's an actor who hasn't had any steady work recently. His wife is divorcing him and he bickers constantly with his pompous father. He finds little joy from taking care of his imaginative, but demanding young children. Benedick lives off from the small amount of royalties from his mother's children's books. After rediscovering one of these collection of fairy tales he begins reading the stories for deeper personal meanings. He's compelled to follow a trail of his mother's old friends who are scattered over Britain and America like a trail of breadcrumbs. The mysteries contained in her subversive fables lead him to his mother's childhood home and the truth about his family that has been hidden from him. Gradually he learns that his alienation from society and erratic behaviour has its roots in a mental illness. But he has to descend into the darkest psychological depths in order to learn how to live with this disorder.
In this beautiful and moving novel, Craig manages to write very convincingly about a man's perspective of the world. Benedick's personal aspirations are clouded by despair in a way that prevents him from also appreciating all the loving people he has in his life. Unfortunately, he has also inherited a lot of pain and bitterness from his mother's life, many of the facts of which have been hidden from him. We are also given many funny details about the cultural differences between America and England. What the author also does so extraordinarily well is show a blend of light and dark in this central character's psychology. He does a number of detestable things. Yet we are given insight into them and understand they are acts of desperation brought about through a mental illness he can‘t control. Craig pays tribute to the important and complex work of Angela Carter who was dubbed the Fairy Godmother of British fiction. She does this by insisting that fairy tales have a much deeper meaning than what appears on the surface. The raucous emotions and terrible violence they depict just may be a greater reflection of reality than we care to admit. The psychological demons which hound many people are indeed more terrifying than the creatures who lurk in the dark woods of fairy tales. By blending the story of Benedick’s travels with a number of creative fairy tales, Craig gives us a lot of insight into this while producing an enthralling story.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I went into "A Dark Wood" and came out much wiser., 18 Jan. 2001
This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Hardcover)
The "Bookworms in Brussels" (a small reading group of seven women - and five different nationalities) went into "In A Dark Wood" in the deepest dark of December and came out much wiser, superbly entertained and finally ... relieved! (but I'm not allowed to say why).
The story is perfectly convincing, as are the characters. The contrast between every day's trials and tribulations, parenthood (all the mothers marvelled at the description of the two irresistible little monsters!), madness & drama and the fairy tales and poems "... and when your heart begins to fail it's like a ship without a sail..." works beautifully. The narrative is witty and full of insight, the fairy tales enchanting, the characters, whether loveable or despicable, are all very vivid. We suffered, and suffered with poor Benedick, and it is a great compliment to the author that - unless you are familiar with manic-depressive cases - you are, literally, kept in the dark until the very end. Do read it!
Inger Løvschall (a Dane in Brussels)
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant description of manic depression., 14 Oct. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Hardcover)
I could not stop reading. The narrative drew me on from page to page. The main character's extreme unpleasantness almost turned me away but fortunately, I persisted and was well rewarded with a moving experience of the horror of depression which turns the sufferer into a beast. The author's understanding of this state is superb, and then her description of his mania which becomes interlaced with passionate love takes the reader on a journey of understanding. Well worth reading.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sad, beautiful and haunting, 13 April 2006
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This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Paperback)
Darker and more heartbreaking than her other books this fine writer weaves powerful myths and fairy stories through the journey made by the central character, an actor coming to terms with the breakup of his marriage.

Amanda Craig again explores the complex relationship between parents and children, a power struggle, held by love and need on both sides.

Initially the book seems as if this will be its major focus. Benedick, the central character, finds that the world of fairy and myth, as exemplified by his dead mother's book, which he reads to his young son, fractures through into his own life, so that the meaning of the stories seem to be echoed in what is happening to him. As the book continues it becomes clear there is a deeper layer to the story, a dark descent into mental illness, a tragedy that has passed through the generations
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, engaging story based on life of Sylvia Plath, 20 Oct. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Hardcover)
What a wonderful story! Based in Primrose Hill, London and the American south, this book explores parenthood, manic-depression, and the complex relationship between Britons and Americans. It is a real page-turner, and can be enjoyed on several levels. On the most basic level, it is just a "good read", that any parent will find funny and touching. At another level, the story is part fairy-tale, part gritty survival drama, that uses mystical, surreal stories-within-stories to portray the suffering of manic depression. The book is based loosely on the life of Sylvia Plath, the great American writer who lived and died in Primrose Hill. It explores the question - asked by most Americans living in London -- why do the British dislike us so much? And the part of the story set in America shows how one British dad and son bump up against US culture. Overall it is an immensely enjoyable and moving story, that bridges the Atlantic in many ways.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Benedick Hunter embarks on a quest to discover his mother's history., 4 Feb. 2014
By 
Eileen Shaw "Kokoschka's_cat" (Leeds, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Hardcover)
An unusual book, taking the reader on quite a journey, deep into the subconscious of Benedick, whose life has suddenly started unravelling at a frightening pace. His wife, Georgina is divorcing him, having found another man more to her tastes and aspirations. Benedick is an actor, and is going through a period of “resting”. Of course he loves his children, Flora and Cosmo, though he, in the way of many men, doesn’t quite know how best to handle them, and he sometimes vacillatates between benign neglect and bullying displeasure.

He is suddenly seized with the notion that he should find out more about his mother, now dead, and an author and illustrator of a series of fairy tales far from the anodyne Disney-dominated pap usually written for children. Throughout the novel he reads these to his son Cosmo (Flora is only three and they are way over her head – she prefers princesses). I was slightly put off – but as the sequence of readings progress the reader can see their strange relevance to a man who is teetering on the edge of something very scary.

I don’t want to spoil the book for other readers, but suffice to say, a revelation concerning Benedick’s health occurs as he pursues his mother’s past, visiting South Carolina, where a branch of the family now lives. The story of her life chimes with his current problems, but Craig weaves the denouement in very skilfully and the ending is one where the reader can breathe a sigh of relief.

I enjoyed this book very much indeed.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars splendid addition to the craig oeuvre-in-progress, 27 Oct. 2000
This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Hardcover)
I loved the mixture of dark and light in this novel--and I loved that Craig took a minor figure from A Vicious Circle (Georgina's husband) and gave him his own book. (IDW stands on its own as a novel, but the fact that it's linked to her previous 3 novels gives the reader added pleasure.) As she did in A Vicious Circle, A Private Place, and Foreign Bodies, in IDW Craig explores and extends a world of relations, relationships, and friends. One thing I love about Craig's novels way she brings to life the particular world described in each of them--the Italian town with creepy expats in FB, the progressive boarding school in APP, the romantically and journalistically linked vicious circle of VC. The new world she's staking out here is mental illness and the recovery of an unknown parental past; she does it so well it feels like...a thoroughly enjoyable hell.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Elegant writing, masterly build up of tension, 20 Nov. 2000
By A Customer
This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Hardcover)
Craig writes with an elegant style that is a joy to read about a difficult subject that I for one knew little about - manic depression. She introduces the protagonist so skilfully that you fail to see the build up, in the same way that the subject also believes that everything he is doing is normal. Reality intrudes on the book at the same time as on you as she transports you from north London to New York and then the Carolinas - with descriptive writing about the US that is quite original and refreshing. A rewarding read that I heartily recommend
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars wonderful! the pace of a thriller, exquisitely written, 19 July 2001
By A Customer
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This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Paperback)
This is a wonderful, wonderful novel. Not only is it exquistely well-written, it is a kind of detective story that you can't put down. It's about finding your way out of despair and depression - the "dark wood" - into life and hope again. The narrator, Benedick, is an actor and at first so self-pitying and unpleasant that I was nearly put off reading more. Don't be! Because not only do you learn to love him and pity him (and sometimes laugh at him)but what happens to him is amazing. I don't want to give the plot away, but it gets more and more exciting (and creepy) especially once he takes his small son to America with him and discovers why his mother killed herself. Apart from being a wonderful story, this is a novel about stories - about our need for them, and also how they can mislead us. Craig interweaves fairy-stories with the narrative, a little as AS Byatt does in 'Possession'but more interestingly. An enchanting, mesmerising novel. I thoroughly recommend it.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, totally fascinating, 8 July 2013
By 
P. Ashley "aka trisha ashley" (Conwy United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: In a Dark Wood (Paperback)
The layers of the story are delicately peeled one by one so that we come to know and sympathise with Benedick even when we also hate him for the things he does, or says to his children. We know there is an ogre in the dark wood fairly soon, but what form it takes only slowly becomes apparent.
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