#BookReview: The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

the girl in the photographThe Girl in the Photograph is a haunting and atmospheric novel that tells the tales of women in two different eras – the 1890’s and 1930’s – and how their lives seem to be entwined by fate. Kate Riordan’s novel is a beautifully dark and beguiling tale which will sweep you away. It will appeal to fans of Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.

In the summer of 1933, Alice Eveleigh has arrived at Fiercombe Manor in disgrace. The beautiful house becomes her sanctuary, a place to hide her shame from society in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. But the manor also becomes a place of suspicion, one of secrecy.

Something isn’t right. Someone is watching.

There are secrets that the manor house seems determined to keep. Tragedy haunts the empty rooms and foreboding hangs heavy in the stifling heat. Traces of the previous occupant, Elizabeth Stanton, are everywhere and soon Alice discovers Elizabeth’s life eerily mirrors the path she herself is on.

Received from Netgalley in exchange for a review.

Alice has been sent to Fiercombe Manor in the summer of 1933 – whilst intelligent and working in an office, she is naive towards men, and soon finds herself seduced and pregnant by a married man who comes to the office. Edith Jelphs was a school friend of Alice’s mother, but who went into service to Elizabeth Stanton in the 1890s and became housekeeper later in life. Before Alice leaves London, her mother rifles through some old photographs and for a while at least, Edith is The Girl in the Photograph.

She arrives at Firecombe, to find it a much extended house of several centuries in age, sitting in the bottom of a valley, and much hidden behind huge Yew Trees.  It is soon clear there are secrets and ghosts in this Manor House and Alice is spooked almost from the first day she is there. Stanton House, where the current Sir Stanton’s older brother built in the 1890s, is long gone, having barely lasted a decade.

Meanwhile there is another story running parallel, that of Elizabeth Stanton, wife of Sir Edward, and who is near full term with her second child. She has already given birth to Isabel, but has had several miscarriages since. She is hoping that this child will prove to be the son she fears Edward wants.  As the story progresses, we begin to find that there are reasons for Edward’s seemingly peculiar behaviour, and that perhaps Elizabeth is not the most reliable narrator of what is going on around her.

As the story shifts between the two women, Alice beings to realise there is a lot of secrets and pain in recent history around the house and the valley. She finds Elizabeth’s diary and reads some of the crytic entries the older women makes and has felt it necessary to hide away in the abandoned summerhouse. The heat of the summer, plus the secrets, the increasing isolation from all she knew in London, and Alice’s growing attraction to Tom Stanton the heir,  all adds up to a increasingly difficult pregnancy.  We begin to realise that Edith is perhaps not the only Girl in the Photograph and some explainations are more unsettling than others.

Her approaching motherhood makes Alice reflect on her relationship with her own mother, and the fact that she will have to give the baby away after the birth.   As the book comes to its conclusion Alice’s life seems to be reflecting that of Elizabeth and Alice’s mother more closely than she could have imagined or feared.

This is certainly an atmospheric book, with the whole isolated valley apparently full of ghosts. A shame that it is published in January as I think it would have been suited better for the autumn market!

About this author

Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist from England. Her first job was as an editorial assistant at the Guardian newspaper, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of London bible, Time Out magazine.

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