When Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor during the long, languid summer of 1933, she finds a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets. Sadness permeates its empty rooms and the isolated valley seems crowded with ghosts, none more alluring than Elizabeth Stanton whose only traces remain in a few tantalisingly blurred photographs. Why will no one speak of her? What happened a generation ago to make her vanish?
As the sun beats down relentlessly, Alice becomes ever more determined to unearth the truth about the girl in the photograph - and stop her own life from becoming an eerie echo of Elizabeth's . . .
The book begins with a great insight into the social history of the 1930s with a young girl becoming pregnant whilst unmarried. It then continues in this vein with a glimpse of an old country estate in the 1930s told through Alice’s eyes, and in the late 1890s told through Elizabeth’s eyes.
I felt there was going to be a great story brewing – with all the deep meaningful silences from Edith the housekeeper and also Ruck the gardener who appears out of the blue in a menacing manner.
About half way through I started to lose interest, but kept going when suddenly there was a link to Alice’s grandmother and I thought it was going to have a real twist of a plot. Unfortunately for me the book then began to get loose ends tied up in convenient ways and the whole “mystical” element disappeared. We learn the big “secret” and although it is tragic, to a 21st century mind it’s all rather tame.
I have to say that the writing itself is exquisite and this kept me going with the book, as I really felt a connection to Alice at least for the first half of the story. The book alternates between the 1930s and 1890s although I found no confusion, as there can be with this kind of narrative, as to who was talking and when it was set. This was due to the clear demarcation within the book of the character headings.
My thanks go to Netgalley and Penguin Books (UK) for supplying a review copy of this book.