For someone who isn’t a fan of ghostly elements in books it is amazing how I have now read three books in quick succession that feature them in various degrees, although the ghosts in this book are in many ways ephemeral beings. For Alice Eveleigh newly resident at Fiercombe Manor the feeling that the house was host to those who’d lived before that made the former Lady of the Manor, Elizabeth Stanton’s life so intriguing and a welcome distraction for the exiled pregnant young woman who had been sent away in disgrace.
Told as a dual narrative between Alice in 1933 and Elizabeth in the last years of the nineteenth century in the beautiful setting of Gloucestershire. Although the story is set in the fictional village of Fiercombe it is nearby the actual village of Painswick and the descriptions of this village often cut off from the outside world by floods were certainly evocative, more so perhaps as this reader spent her formative years in Gloucestershire.
With both women pregnant albeit under very different circumstances the reader is drawn into comparisons of the two women’s lives as their pregnancies prove to be a difficult time for both of them. Both Alice and Elizabeth’s characters are well-developed as are the secondary characters of Mrs Jelph the housekeeper and Ruck the groundsman at Fiercombe Manor. The beauty of the two narratives being less than forty years apart enables Kate Riordan to weave many of the characters into both stories which lends a feeling of continuity that can be lost or contrived during these dual time tales. The issues facing both women are well-researched which helps keep the story rooted in the time it’s set in although I think this was more successful for Elizabeth than Alice whose life was more isolated until the heir to the manor, Tom, returns to carry out some estate work, but Tom has his own burden and Alice is intrigued to have another Stanton mystery to uncover.
For once it was the more recent story that grabbed my attention and I wanted all to turn out well for Alice, a bright and inquisitive young lady who having left her busy London life with her job, her friends and her parents behind doesn’t dwell on her own misfortune but instead uses her banishment to learn more about Elizabeth aided by a diary and the local historian Hugh Morton she finds pictures of houses, gardens and finally a picture of Elizabeth.
This book has a melancholy feel to it and the author doesn’t try to make everything all better so if you decide to read this one prepare to have a lump in your throat as you realise how much easier women’s lives are today than the times depicted in this novel.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Real Readers who sent me this book in the hope that I would enjoy it and write a review. How could I not enjoy a well-researched historical novel that deals with the issues it tells in a realistic but not overly sensational manner.