Having read, and enjoyed The Girl in the Photograph, I was pleased to be able to have a pre-release copy of Kate Riordan’s latest book to review. Like the girl in the Photograph this is a tale that spans different generations of women – this time in the last quarter of the 19th century and towards the end of the first quarter of the 20th century.
The women in question are Harriet Jenner, who, after falling into reduced circumstances after her father is duped out of money, moves to Fenix House outside Cheltenham to be governess to the children of Robert and Louisa Pemberton. Two generations later, Harriet sends her granddaughter, Grace to carry out the same role for Lucas, the grandson of the Pembertons.
As the story develops the chapters are either narrated in 1922 by Grace as she settles into her new job and begins to learn more about the family, or telling the story of Harriet from the previous century. Grace has no real idea why Harriet wants her to go back to Fenix House [though I did wonder more than once if it could be to persuade the family to change its name to Phoenix House!] and as she becomes more settled, she finds that as she finds out how the family fits together, she just has more questions.
Initially I wondered whether the book was going anywhere, but soon found that I was becoming absorbed in the story, due in no small part to the skilful way that Ms Riordan develops the characters. By the time I was halfway through it had become a page turner and I really wanted to know if things were what I suspected they were.
One thing that really struck me with this book is that nothing is superfluous – every detail is there for a reason, and some of those reasons don’t become clear until the very end.
There’s a bit of everything in here – a touch of romance, family intrigue, gender inequality, murder, colonialism, greed, poverty, affluence….. You name it, and there’s probably a suggestion of it in there somewhere!
I really enjoyed this book, Ms Riordan is a spectacular storyteller, and I look forward to reading more of her work. Thanks are due to the publishers, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph, for providing my copy via Netgalley.