Wednesday 2 March 2022

The House of Whispers

Finished February 25
The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell

This novel has a touch of gothic and otherworldly. There are two timelines, but we aren't given dates for them. They are forty years apart, and both set at a remote house on the cliffs in Cornwall. 
The later timeline starts the novel, as Esther Stevens, now going by the name of Hester Why sets off on a coach for Cornwall where she has taken a position of nurse for an older woman. We gradually learn what and why she is fleeing, and she has an encounter on her journey that brings attention upon her, which she does not want. 
When she arrives at her destination, she finds the other servants a mix of friendly and taciturn, with one of them seeming a bit odd and unnerving. The woman she is looking after barely speaks, is frail, and seems to be in her own world. There is also a younger woman in the house, who is treated as if she is a child, although she is not one in age. 
Hester is also dealing with her own demons, as we discover quite early. She finds the various members of the household believing in superstitions around fairies, changelings, and God, that she has trouble reconciling with reality.
The earlier timeline takes place as a doctor and her adult daughter arrive at the house where he plans to begin an experimental treatment for consumption. The patients he has to begin this treatment are convicts, all suffering from consumption at a variety of stages. His daughter Louise is his assistant in this experiment, and both are grieving the loss of his wife and other daughters from the disease of consumption. 
Louise worries about her father, grieves the rest of her family, and has resigned herself to dedicating her life to her father's dream at the expense of having a family of her own. The maid that her father has hired is a woman with superstitions and odd behaviours that she isn't entirely comfortable with. 
As we gradually learn the links between these two times at this remote house, we also find ourselves seeing these two women who both care perhaps too much for those they serve and see how they react in their own way to loss. 
This is a book with lots of atmosphere, including the ever present sea and strange music. A very different read.

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