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 . . .
“There is something enchanting and mysterious about it…. you glimpse places…. lonely houses tucked into the countryside, almost hidden in the folds of the hills. You wonder who lives in them, what’s happened in their history.”
This is a story of two women told in two time periods (alternating chapters) and the events that occur resulting from the societal attitudes of the time. It is a story of relationships. Both women, Elizabeth in 1890s and Alice in 1930s, are expecting a child and both are at the mercy of their family’s - Alice is banished from her family, for foolishly falling in love with a married man; Elizabeth seeks approval from her husband and the pressure of having to provide a male heir.
Fiercombe Manor is a substantial read being over 400 pages with Riordan presenting vivid descriptions– the setting, both manor house and the surroundings are really well portrayed – but at times it borders on a little too much and therefore becomes a bit tedious.“(There is a) tangible bond to connect Elizabeth’s time and mine, and I thought again of the silken tether that seemed to pull me back towards her.”
“I indulged myself…looking at the manor with new eyes, seeing it not just as a house brimming with centuries of secrets – secrets sewn into the faded tapestries and slipped down the cracks in the floorboards.”
What we believe Riordan does very well is portray mental health issues in the late 19th century – this aspect of the story is riveting and sadly, captivating. It makes you stop and consider the attitudes of the period towards women, pregnancy and the associated mental health.
“…The air crackled and vibrated as if some remnant of their presence echoed down through the centuries, an empty valley crowded with ghosts.”
The last segment of the book concerning Alice was disappointing; it felt as if everything was resolved too neatly. For example the way Alice’s relationship with her mother evolved or the sudden romantic aspect, that just seemed forced and a weak, contrived link - disappointing. Also, the earlier haunting ghost aspect seemed to drift away. Here was one component that we felt so much more could have been made of. We wanted Riordan to take it that step further and make connections, past and present, in a Katie Morton fashion. Elizabeth's story, however, was an entirely different matter - We found it totally mesmerizing and emotionally moving. It's a tragic tale that fills the reader with a sense of horror and at times anger. So on the whole we enjoyed the story and maybe it will weave enchantment over you:
“The valley and the people who had lived here were weaving their enchantment around me already.”
**International readers please note this title is also released as The Girl in the Photograph.
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher provided through Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.