Reginald Hill’s “The Woodcutter”
“The Woodcutter” was Reginald Hill’s last published novel (2010), a standalone and in many ways it harks back to his earliest novels set in Cumbria such as “Fell of Dark” and “The Long Kill”. A long novel of nearly six hundred very gripping pages.
And the theme of his book takes some of the elements of those two novels and re-presents them in a startling and dramatic way. It is as though all the shackles of the crime genre have been removed from the author and he has a free hand to experiment with narration, character and plot reliability.
The leading character Wolf Hadda is a rich and successful businessman, whose world suddenly comes crashing down. He finds himself accused of child abuse and importing child pornography. Is he guilty, or has he been set up, and who by?
Wolf is a man with many enemies, in business, on the fringes of the security services, and in his personal relationships. Having served his sentence he returns to his ancestral background in Cumbria, living a rough life with his dog (and the dog is a magnificent literary creation in his own right!) in a lonely cottage.
It is from here that he begins to investigate what happened in his own past. But is he a reliable narrator of events, or just telling people what he wants to hear? You are never quite sure until the end of the book.
And there is something quite fairy-tale-ish in the idea of someone called Wolf living in a wood. A feeling of the Brothers Grimm about the whole tale. And Hill plays with our senses magnificently, the book has some quiet darkly comedic shades. There is tragedy, comedy and wit in the narrative. There are subtle jokes and a great deal of word-play. His descriptions of the Lake District are often stunningly beautiful, very realistic and the tale comes to a dramatic conclusion amidst the Lakeland mountains.
Every character is well delineating, from the sinister JC of the secret service to the women in Wolf’s life such as his wife Imogen, and his prison psychiatrist, Alva Ozigbo, who has to try to unravel the very complicated web surrounding the life and past of Wolf Hadda. “The Woodcutter” is a novel of multiple viewpoints, all of which have to be constantly questioned, for the novel takes you in many directions you weren’t expecting.
I shan’t say any more about the plot, for this is a book you really should seek out and read for yourselves. I think it is Hill’s masterpiece. A book that will haunt you long after you close the covers.