Teenaged girls meddling with witchcraft in the churchyard of Dry Falls parish seem to have woken something up. As an incessant heat wave holds the town in a stranglehold, the women of the town begin to have nightmares and as Henry, the town priest, investigate, his wife Cora begins to feel increasingly isolated.
The above, is the plot of Ann Arensberg’s Incubus as I managed to gather it from reading this book which took me weeks because its tendency to meander away from the details of the plot and insert a multitude of irrelevant descriptions made it a very frustrating read. The novel starts with a vaguely academic tone as Cora promises to provide a scientific record of the events of that summer, then proceeds to narrate her husband, mother and sister’s life stories… though it isn’t too long before she veers away from focusing on the paranormal aspects of the summer to provide tedious descriptions of her cooking and wax lyrical about outdated notions of femininity, basically positing that all women occupy a vaguely pagan status and that cooking, wishing and gardening are tantamount to witchcraft. I found the “we weak and helpless women” tone of the piece profoundly irritating.
The characters were poorly rendered and unbelievable. For all that Cora says about her husband Henry, he remains a shadowy figure, and there is no relationship between him and Cora to speak of but at least the author has tried to shoe horn in some depth of character here. The rest of the novel was stocked with 2D characters whose bland interactions held neither interest or credibility for the reader. The author genuinely seemed more interested in describing dry chicken dinners than developing a plot concerning the incubus.
The ending of the novel was so bad it was laughable, I won’t include too many spoilers but it mostly involves a showdown between the forces of heaven and hell in a church, the priest sustaining a sprained ankle and Cora(who the whole town seems to have agreed was too boring to become a target for the incubus) deciding she is like Persephone locked in her husband’s underworld. I was left wondering what on earth the author could have been thinking.
A town plagued by an Incubus is a subject with the potential for a really gripping novel, but somehow Ann Arensberg has managed to make it deathly dull. It’s almost a snatching defeat from the jaws of victory scenario.
At times, Aresnberg writes very pretty descriptions but given the weakness of characterisation and plotting I did wonder whether food or travel writing might be a better genre for her than supernatural thriller.