The Mill is, in essence, a story about grief. Michael, the main character, has recently lost his wife and is understandably struggling to come to terms with a new way of life without her. In this raw emotional state he is persuaded to join a support group of other widows and widowers.
This aspect of the book is straightforward enough. The story is convincing and the writing is clear and descriptive without being gushy, which made it stand out from other, less subtle books I’ve read before which deal with pain. It is an emotional tale, but one in which you sympathise with the characters without feeling guilt-tripped into pity.
However, there is more to this novella of just 76 pages. Michael develops a recurring dream in which he hears his wife’s voice in a woodland clearing; he is sure he recognises the place but he cannot quite identify it. He is unsettled by the dream, but is even more disturbed to find that he is not the only one to have dreamt of that same clearing…
Eventually he realises that the clearing is in fact somewhere he played as a child, close to a deserted house known as The Mill. Why is he, and why are the others who have had the same dream, being drawn to The Mill? What really happened there?
The Mill is an easy afternoon’s read, being so short. I have to admit though that I would have preferred to find it as part of a collection of short stories, rather than a stand-alone book. The conclusion I had suspected was in fact the correct one, but I still felt surprised because it seemed better suited to a short story than a novel.
I ended the book feeling a little disappointed, but only because I was left wanting more. Perhaps it seemed shorter than it actually was because I’m a fast reader, I don’t know. I thought that more could have been made of the ghost story – not possible in the space available, but maybe in a hypothetical extended version.
I did like West’s writing style, however and having found out that The Mill was previously published as part of an anthology called We Fade To Grey, I might consider buying this collection of his stories at some point.
You can find out more about The Mill here.