A one night stand has left Alice Eveleigh in a position no single young woman in 1930’s London would want to be in. So to avoid embarrassment, she’s been packed off to Fiercombe Manor. Nestled in the English countryside and all but cut off from the outside world, Fiercombe seems like the ideal place for a young woman to hide herself and her perceived disgrace from society. But just as Alice hides the origins of the life growing inside her, so too does the Manor hold its own secrets. As the months roll by and Alice learns more about the history of the Manor, she sees her own life reflected in its past, and begins to fear that her future will end up similar to that of Elizabeth Stanton, the woman who lived in the Manor in years gone by, and whose memory still haunts its walls.
I’ll start by saying I really enjoyed this book. I read it quite quickly and even sat up so late reading I fell asleep, which is a pretty rare occurrence these days. Probably my favourite thing about it was the switching of the narrative back and forth between Alice in the present (1930’s), and Elizabeth in the past (late 1800’s). I personally like this move between time as it not only breaks things up, but keeps me thinking as I piece together the clues provided in each time. It’s probably this that kept me reading into the wee hours as I had to know if I was right in my predictions.
Although the character of Alice shared many similarities with other characters in the women’s historical fiction genre, I found her to be a thoroughly likeable character in her own right and I genuinely wanted her to have a happy ending. While I couldn’t relate to the situation she found herself in, I still sympathised with her.
The overall tone of the novel was quite dark and faintly gothic. Occasionally it reminded me in a small way of Brontë’s Wuthering Heights – for much of the novel there was an almost oppressive wintriness: lots of rain, clouds, and just general cold. It reflected Alice’s situation nicely and it wasn’t until summer arrived that there seemed to be any hope for the character.
There’s definitely a formula to writing women’s historical fiction. There needs to be a female character who is perhaps a little meek at the outset. You then take that character and in some way set her at odds with the people around her, or thrust her into an unfamiliar situation. Add in a mystery to be solved; an enigmatic and unexpected (for the female character, not the reader) suitor; and a plot to make the leading lady bloom, and we have the blueprint for Women’s Historical Fiction. In this sense, I do find that these sorts of books can be a little predictable. But are they any the worse for it? No way! It lends the novels a certain level of familiarity, which sometimes you need after been taken on a roller coaster with less predictable books. The important thing is how the bones of the novel are fleshed out, and I really liked the way Kate Riordan did this in The Girl in the Photograph. Despite me guessing how certain things would end, I still held out hope that I would be wrong and as a reader I always like to have hope, even if it doesn’t come to fruition.
Many thanks to Penguin Books Australia and NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest review!