Today is my stop on the blog tour for ‘Once Upon a Lane’ by Duncan Wilson organised by Storytellers on Tour, and I hope that you will check out the book and the author, and enjoy the rest of the tour with the schedule in the banner below or (HERE).
*Disclaimer: ‘I was given a copy this book in exchange for an honest review, all views are my own.’*
“There once was a lane, filled with well-tended lawns and well-fostered friendships, of well-appointed houses all neat and tidy and those that live within, of stories and mysteries that manifest for only fleeting moments for the few who pay attention. This is one such tale. A tale about pleasant people, about the lives they live, about their wants and dreams, about their loves and losses, their joys and hates, about their days and nights in the company of cherished companions in the houses they call home. In this tale of the happy little lives of blissful simple folk, there are monsters, to be sure. But this is not the story of monsters, this is not the tale of their evil deeds, this is the tale of those they make suffer. In this tale, the monsters have no names. The monsters do not deserve names.”
A character driven slice-of-life story that follows the humble lives of the residents of a suburban neighborhood as they live and love, and about the house with the dead yard, a vacant lot, that sits among their homes, inert and immobile, yet intimidating and terrifying to any who look at it too long. The children of the lane are not the only ones who are fearful of the anomaly in their midst. Every adult upon the lane wonders why the structure still stands, with no known owner and no reason to be. The lingering question is not who owns the house, but why no one ever goes in or comes out, and why there are such ghastly noises emanating from within. Day by day, the happy people of the lane go about their tasks and trials, and day by day, the house with the dead yard seems a little more ominous, a little more intrusive, and a little less ignorable than before.
A wholesome horror story – these aren’t words that you would generally put together, but then there is a lot about Once Upon a Lane that looks at ‘what should be’ before going its own way. I enjoy books that look at genre lines and refuse to be defined by them, which was one of the appeals of this book from the start because I wanted to see how slice-of-life would work with horror – the answer?
Wilson does an absolutely fantastic job of bringing the lane to life in vivid detail, from the homes and gardens to the denizens of the street, until it feels as though you could close your eyes, take a deep breath and open them to find yourself there. He takes the familiar – the simplicity of life on that lane and uses that to lure us in, much in the same way that the characters themselves are caught in the pattern of their life. In some ways, it’s almost whimsical how they go about their lives, and I loved the sense of history and time passing that was created, the feeling of age and timelessness that was conveyed through the characters and the lives they lived.
There are a lot of characters in this book, and the POV switches quite a lot, which adds to that feeling of whimsy, and yet it is never overwhelming. Instead, it’s like we’ve been invited to live on that lane, getting to know the neighbours one by one, and never able to remember everything about them, but knowing enough to consider them part of our lives. Despite the number of characters, they all had their own unique aspects and personalities, and it was fascinating to see the different glimpses of their lives, and I loved all the little details and quirks that the author threw in, and as someone who lives in a small lane – those are the details you tend to notice and know more than anything.
So where is the horror you might ask?
It’s subtle. In many ways, this is an odd story, but it works so well. There is no beast lurking in the shadows (that we know of anyway), there’s no blood and gore, but rather a creeping tension that seeps through the cracks. A tension that takes everything else about this story, that feeling of whimsy, the quiet pattern of life on the Lane and uses it to wrap itself around you, and sneak inside your heart almost without you realising what is happening. It’s a feeling that swells and grows gradually throughout the story, cresting for brief moments whenever The House is mentioned. It shouldn’t be anything. An empty house on a lane, and yet it is everything, and Wilson does it with such skill and subtlety that you don’t realise you’ve been sucked into this world where the inhabitants of the lane are aware of the house and its wrongness but trying to avoid it until you find yourself doing the same. Your breath catches when the house is mentioned, but you want to focus on the lives of the neighbours and their interactions, the safety of life.
Now, I have to say that I was the child who was fascinated with the ‘haunted house’ at the end of the lane, and I spent far too many hours creeping around it and imagining what could be inside, and I think that possibly leads to my one and only complaint, in that a part of me – that same messy child that climbed up to peer through cracks in the windows, and dreamed up monsters in the dark rooms – wanted to see what lay behind that creeping fear, to peek through the windows and doors of that house. I wanted a little more, and yet at the same time, I absolutely loved what this book did. I wanted to see more, yet it was so easy to be pulled into the Lane and to avoid looking and shiver at thoughts of the house, and shiver at that ending.
Once Upon a Lane is certainly an unusual book, and it’s hard to define. It’s a story that makes you question many things, including how such stories should and shouldn’t work, and it’s one that I think you can only truly understand by reading yourself. If you want something different, something that steps outside the normal boundaries then this is one for you.
About the Author:
Duncan Wilson has been writing since childhood, having fallen in love with the written word at a very early age. Having spent his formative years in various libraries, he can bore his friends on a variety of subjects. Inspired by the natural world and the splendors of the heavens, he writes primarily science fiction and paranormal stories. He has a novel and two novellas published on Amazon and Smashwords, and an additional novella and several short stories published on Patreon.
If you’ve read it, or read it in the future, please feel free to shout at me about this fantastic book.