The Secret of Nightingale Wood is an incredibly moving, beautifully written and sumptuously layered book by Lucy Strange.
With an inter-woven prose of fairy tales, magic and mental health, the story is about a young girl called Henrietta who is – along with her mother, father and little baby sister – grieving for the loss of her brother, Robert.
The family have moved to a quiet village on the edge of Nightingale Woods because Henrietta’s mother is suffering from a serious nervous breakdown from the loss of her son. And, as Henry (everyone calls her this, not Henrietta) is forced to witness her father leaving home to go abroad to work, and to deal with some over-zealous doctors wanting to “experiment” on her mother’s nervous condition (brilliantly and very sinister depictions of typical early 20th century medical practitioners who believed barbaric torture was the cure to mental illness), she is understandably distraught.
And, because of this, she retreats into her imagination. She sees visions of her dead brother, talks with a woman in the forest called Moth who, according to everyone, has been dead three years…and worries about who the strange limping man is who keeps coming to the house.
There is A LOT of brooding secrets in this novel, and it’s written in such a quietly ominous fashion that the reader just doesn’t know if what Henry is telling us is truth…or her imagination dealing with grief.
Suffice to say, the “secret” in the woods becomes a lot more involved in Henry’s life – and her mother’s – towards the end, when there is a very satisfying conclusion that brings a momentous clash of old science with modern therapy, the aftermath of war and how one little girl – Henry – had the foresight, intelligence and tenacity to save her mother and the family from falling apart.