I was actually given this book for free in my first Aardvark Book Club box, so it wasn’t one I was really interested in reading, but a free book is a free book, so I thought I’d give it a shot. And I liked it! It was a little bit messy in terms of pacing, and the blurb is pretty misleading, but I was so angry by the end of the book, I have to give it props, because it managed to get me invested enough to provoke anger.
Our main character is Maude, a thirteen-year old girl in England in 1876 whose father has just died, and whose mother is about to. Her older brother Frank is off at Cambridge studying to be a doctor. Her story is told through her diary entries, which a woman in 1945 named Peggy (the daughter in law of Maude’s brother) is reading upon inheriting the house from Maude, who has just died. Peggy is barely in this book, despite what the blurb and the reviews saying its “dual timelines” lead you to believe. Her timeline is a frame story, and 95% of the book is Maude’s diary, though the end is in Peggy’s timeline and is essential to understanding what story the author is wanting to tell.
The conflict of the story here is in reading Maude’s writing (and she’s a very engaging writer) and the reader understanding much more of what is actually going on than Maude does. This morphs into Maude’s uprbrining clashing with her lived experience, when she goes to live with a woman named Miss Greenaway. I can’t say more than that without spoilers.
For much of this book, I didn’t really understand why it was considered “gothic,” but the ending made it more clear. This isn’t getting four stars from me for a couple of reasons. First, the story feels kind of unsure of itself. First you think it’s going for one thing, but when the characters at the end react to Maude’s diary, it seems to be going for something else. So is this a story about a young girl trying to make sense of conflicting social norms, or is this a story about, uh, something else?
Also, SPOILERS I just got really angry that Kitty died. I didn’t want this book to be a tragedy. It seemed to echo the plot of Atonement way too much for my liking. Why couldn’t Kitty live and Maude reject her brother and go be happy in a loving home? END SPOILERS. Clearly I just wanted this to be a different type of story.
I liked this better than I thought I would, and I definitely got way more emotionally involved than I expected, but it’s still a 3.5 star book for me.