Tuesday, March 24, 2020

House of Glass

House of Glass / Susan Fletcher
London: Virago, c2018.
360 p.
Another thrilling tale, this is an Edwardian gothic. Clara Waterfield, a young woman who suffers from a rare brittle bone disease, finds work and satisfaction at Kew Gardens, helping in the greenhouses. Due to her growing knowledge, she is summoned to the countryside estate of Shadowbrook, to help the reclusive owner fill his shiny new glasshouse with exotic plants. 

Not sure why he's asked for her, Clara finds that she is entering a house full of dark secrets. The maids are skittish, the housekeeper is exhausted to the point of breakdown, all because they believe that the ghost of a doomed ancestress haunts the house. Clara, ever scientific, pooh-poohs this idea until one night when she experiences a terrifying episode. She is determined to discover the truth about what is happening at Shadowbrook, and goes about it in her regular stubborn way. 

But there are three men at Shadowbrook who are all hiding things from her, no matter how much they seem to want to help her. And as always, men and their secrets put Clara into great physical danger. 

This book was truly creepy -- the sudden terror of the ghost was so well done, despite the fact that reading from Clara's point of view means you know that there is going to be an explanation for everything. Her determination to put facts above all, and not to be swayed by the possibility of the supernatural, lies partly in her scientific bent, and partly because her mother has recently died and she doesn't want to let herself believe in an afterlife. 

And what about the father she never knew? She will find out more than she ever expected while at Shadowbrook.

While sometimes the story was a little bit wordy or went off on a bit of an aimless paragraph or two, overall it was quite tightly written. The characters were all interesting, with varied motivations and unexpected behaviours. Clara was a wonderful focus, with her unusual malady and resultant strength of character. The descriptions of Shadowbrook and its grounds were also thorough and evocative -- I can still feel the gardens after reading this weeks ago.

I could see the plot twist earlier than the author revealed it, and it was a little bit predictable for this kind of book. But it was still an engaging read, and the resolution of some of the minor characters' storylines was also quite satisfying. 

Set in 1914, it also has shades of war looming over it, giving it an even more fragile atmosphere. If you like stories of old houses and ghosts and intrepid female leads, set in the sepia toned nostalgia of the Edwardian age, you might want to pick this one up. 

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