I was delighted to receive a proof copy of Alison Littlewood’s latest novel, The Hidden People which I had heard a lot about. Set in the 19th century this is an intriguing historical fiction novel filled with mystery and folklore.
‘But I was more determined than ever: I would have the truth. Lizzie would have it.’
The Hidden People is narrated by Albie Mirralls, a man who is left horrified when he learns of the death of his cousin, Lizzie Higgs. He had met Lizzie only once at the Great Exhibition of 1951, but she left quite an impression on him. A few years later she becomes the victim of a terrifying and brutal attack, and is burned to death on her own hearth as she was thought to be a changeling. Albie leaves his wife behind and travels to the village of Halfoak to investigate the circumstances of Lizzie’s death, and finds himself in a place surrounded by suspicion and folklore. He is outraged at the treatment of his cousin, and determined to find out what really happened to her, and what drove a man to take her life. He soon meets people in the village who tell him stories of the sinister goings on in the village, stories of fairies, changelings, and the ‘Hidden People’that roam.
‘And then I turned another page and something stilled within me. I read on, not quite believing what it was they told me.’
To add to Albie’s troubles there is also uncertainty surrounding his wife who doesn’t seem quite herself and with the stories he hears in Halfoak he starts to question her behaviour and has even more suspicions of his own. These are the mysteries that gradually unfold over the course of the novel. I would say the pace of the story is fairly slow but I liked the writing and found that it set the scene really well and made for an atmospheric read. I liked the depiction of the village and its inhabitants and particularly enjoyed the use of language. As this is a Yorkshire village the Yorkshire dialect was used which helped make the characters more vivid and authentic. As the novel progressed I became more intrigued about finding out what happened to Lizzie. And as Albie delves deeper into the mystery with the help of some journal excerpts he begins to piece together the story…
‘We are born to wonder, are we not, we human beings? If we did not, if we had no wonder, no curiosity, no…imagination, what would we be then?’
Despite the slower pace I found The Hidden People to be an enjoyable, dark tale. It is an intriguing Victorian murder mystery filled with interesting themes surrounding folklore and superstition in the 19th century, along with some unforgettable characters.
The Hidden People is to be published on 6th October 2016 by Jo Fletcher Books. Many thanks to Olivia Mead for providing a proof copy for review.