Set in Edwardian England, Alice Thompson’s latest novel centres on the twisted love story of Gothic heroine, Violet, and her new aristocratic husband. The tale opens with the suggestion that Violet bares a strong resemblance to Lord Murray’s dead wife, Rose. In a similar vein to the nameless protagonist of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Violet appears to become figuratively haunted by the ghost of Rose as she settles into her new marital home. And despite the comfort and wealth of her new surroundings, she quickly becomes aware that the house contains secrets of her husband’s past.
She also becomes enamoured with the houses’s library which contains a multitude of collector’s editions. One particular book of fairy tales, which she discovers locked away in a secret safe, becomes an unshakeable obsession and continues to play on her mind as she battles postnatal mental health issues. As the line between reality and her imagination becomes more and more blurred, she finds herself admitted into an asylum where her doctor replaces Lord Murray as the patriarchal figurehead of her masculine world.
When she eventually returns home, she finds her identity further challenged by the presence of a new nanny who seems to excel at her substitute role as wife and mother. As Violet attempts to make things right she begins to witness things that make her fear for her sanity and becomes paranoid of everything and everyone around her. In true Gothic style, the reader is brought on a journey of suspense and uncovered mysteries as Violet tries to make sense of her new reality and become her own saviour.
Evocative of Angela Carter’s early work, I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys the darkness of fairy tales or mystery fictions. For those who may already be familiar with this story and are looking for similar works, I would recommend Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber & Other Stories and, as mentioned above, Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca.
To summarise, this really is a wonderfully Gothic tale and one that I will be adding to my ‘to-be-reread-for-research-purposes’ pile (yes, I really have one!), as I definitely want to write a paper on it at a later date.
The Book Collector cover art image: Copyright of Salt Publishing.