In this haunting and richly imagined dual-narrative tale that echoes the eerie mystery of Rebecca and The Little Stranger , two women of very different eras are united by the secrets hidden within the walls of an English manor house.Read more...
In this haunting and richly imagined dual-narrative tale that echoes the eerie mystery of Rebecca and The Little Stranger, two women of very different eras are united by the secrets hidden within the walls of an English manor house.
In 1933, naive twenty-two year-old Alice--pregnant and unmarried--is in disgrace. Her mother banishes her from London to secluded Fiercombe Manor in rural Gloucestershire, where she can hide under the watchful eye of her mother's old friend, the housekeeper Mrs. Jelphs. The manor's owners, the Stantons, live abroad, and with her cover story of a recently-deceased husband Alice can have her baby there before giving it up for adoption and returning home. But as Alice endures the long, hot summer at Fiercombe awaiting the baby's birth, she senses that something is amiss with the house and its absentee owners.
Thirty years earlier, pregnant Lady Elizabeth Stanton desperately hopes for the heir her husband desires. Tormented by the memory of what happened after the birth of her first child, a daughter, she grows increasingly terrified that history will repeat itself, with devastating consequences.
After meeting Tom, the young scion of the Stanton family, Alice becomes determined to uncover the clan's tragic past and exorcise the ghosts of this idyllic, isolated house. But nothing can prepare Alice for what she uncovers. Soon it is her turn to fear: can she escape the tragic fate of the other women who have lived in the Fiercombe valley . . .
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2014-12-15
- Reviewer: Staff
Tragic events, buried secrets, and a mysterious manor tether the lives of two English women, separated by 30 years, in Riordan’s (Birdcage Walk) Gothic-style dual narrative. Beginning in 1932, narrator Alice Eveleigh, a naive 22-year-old in London, becomes romantically involved with a married man. When she becomes pregnant, Alice’s shamed parents concoct a story about a dead husband and whisk her out of the city to an old friend, a buttoned-up housekeeper at the Stanton family’s Fiercombe Manor in the Cotswolds. The novel then backs up to 1898, with the other narrator, Lady Elizabeth Stanton, expecting a second child; she hopes it is a healthy boy, an heir for her demanding husband. In 1932, Alice spends her own pregnancy exploring Fiercombe, reading Elizabeth’s hidden diary, discovering haunting old photos and discarded toys, and experiencing strange phenomena—screeching owls and “murmuring” wind. She befriends the estate’s heir, Tom Stanton, and discovers that she and Elizabeth share a bond: “My life apparently turning into a morbid echo of Elizabeth’s.” When a shocking secret is revealed, Alice fears for herself and her baby. Riordan’s bewitching blend of tainted aristocrats, secretive domestics, and manipulative quacks amid a crumbling English country home is atmospheric and entertaining. (Feb.)
A house of secrets
When 22-year-old Alice becomes pregnant out of wedlock in the early 1930s, both she and her family fear disgrace. Her mother sends her from London to the Gloucestershire countryside to await the baby’s birth at a place called Fiercombe Manor, after which she will give the baby to an orphanage. Her mother’s old friend, Mrs. Jelphs, is the housekeeper at the empty manor, and she promises to keep watch over Alice, who has concocted a cover story of a recently deceased husband.
The house’s owners, the Stantons, live abroad, so Alice spends the sweltering summer mostly alone, accompanied by a feeling that something is amiss with the manor and its history. She becomes determined to seek out the secrets of the manor’s past and discovers that, 30 years ago, another pregnant woman suffered a tragedy on the estate. As Alice uncovers Elizabeth’s story, she fears that she, too, will share her fate. Weaving together Alice’s and Elizabeth’s stories, Fiercombe Manor ties together two women who, despite their different statuses and eras, are connected in many ways.
British writer and journalist Kate Riordan has worked for the Guardian, and her debut novel, Birdcage Walk, was based on a real-life crime in 1900s London. Her rich language pulls readers in, giving them a glimpse of the idyllic English countryside, its inhabitants and its secrets. Fiercombe Manor is fierce, imaginative and suspenseful.