The Girl in the Photograph
The 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.
The Girl in the Photograph (Kate Riordan) was published by Penguin on January 15th so it’s just over a week old. It’s a rather good winter read, actually. Goodreads describes it as ‘atmospheric and haunting,' which, yes, accurate description is accurate.
'I could never have imagined all that would happen in those few short months and how, by the end of them, my life would have altered irrevocably and for ever'
The book tells the story, simultaneously of Alice (in 1933) and Elizabeth (in the late 1800’s.)
An affair with a married man that leaves her pregnant *gasp* causes Alice to be sent away from her home in London in disgrace, to spend the summer (and her pregnancy) at Fiercombe Manor where a childhood friend of her Mother’s is Housekeeper.
You can’t help but feel sorry for her really – her Mother seems a little cold, her Dad a little weak and really, Alice is just a naive young girl who fell in love with the wrong man. He told her he loved her, that he'd leave his wife and she believed him, bless her. Being packed off to a deserted manor in the middle of nowhere to have her baby among strangers knowing she’ll have to give it up for adoption on her return to London feels harsh, and Alice is so likeable that you can’t not sympathise with her. I did at least.
A little research before she leaves London and the discovery of a letter hidden in an old sewing box and an old diary grabs Alice’s attention – the ideal distraction from her own rather sorry situation and can you blame her really: things are pretty shit from where she’s sitting, I’d have needed a distraction too – and soon she’s pretty obsessed by Fiercombe Manor’s former mistress, Elizabeth, who in the summer of 1898 was also heavily pregnant.
There are eerie similarities between Alice’s story and Elizabeth’s – similarities that run far beyond the summer pregnancies - which really help with the split narrative, as does the excellent development of all the characters, minor ones included. The more Alice finds out about Elizabeth the more fascinated I became, and whilst the old dual timeline is becoming increasingly familiar, it works super well here, thanks in part to Mrs Jelphs, the housekeeper (once ladies maid to Elizabeth) who is a strong supporting character and ties the two stories together nicely.
This is a story that’s bursting at the seams (at the spine?) with detail. Seriously, there is a lotalot going on here, and the atmosphere is tense and almost claustrophobic the whole way through. It’s not particularly dialogue heavy which I liked and it’s written in such a way that there’s a sort of sense of panic - terror almost although that does feel a little bit like my being over dramatic - that builds gently the whole way through, not to the point that you’re actually terrified (a horror story this is not, as if I would ever. Although perhaps don’t read it if you’re feeling a little nervy) but certainly to the point that you don’t want to stop reading.. You feel it building and building, an almost delicate crescendo, and you know something is going to happen and it might not be something good; you kind of don’t want to know, but at the same time you really really do. You need to unravel these two stories; you need to figure out the connection; you need to know what happened to Elizabeth and what’s going to happen to Alice and how it all pans out. Just like Elizabeth’s story got its claws into Alice, this whole book got it’s claws into me. The attention to detail is excellent, the story gripping and all of the characters fully fleshed out and real. It’s really really good.
I think you should read it.
[I received a copy of this book via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.]