A Way Through the Woods, By Katharine McMahon

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The Independent Culture

Katharine McMahon's novel, set in the 1920s, is inspired by the story of the Cottingley Fairies – a hoax perpetrated by two country girls who claimed to have taken photographs of fairies in a wood. What interests McMahon most is not the veracity of the pictures, but their date: 1917, the middle of the First World War. Violence and suffering forms the backdrop to her novel.

Sophia has lost her brother in the war, and her mother has abandoned her father for the suffrage movement. She returns to a village where she spent a childhood summer, because her dreamy-eyed, lonely cousin, Helen, who saw fairies, bequeathed her diaries to Sophia's mother's friend, Eleanor, who has since passed away, and bequeathed the diaries to Sophia. Sophia sparks bad feeling, as she tries to find out the truth of her cousin's visions. And if this sounds confusing, that's because it is. I was never sure why a girl would give her diaries to an older woman, or why she would pass them on to another girl. An interesting premise that fails, sadly, in the execution.