A novel about people, a country estate, and living history
“The house contains time. Its walls hold stories. Births and deaths, comings and goings, people and events passing through. . . . For now, however, it lies suspended in a kind of emptiness, as if it has fallen asleep or someone has put it under a spell. This silence won’t last: can’t last. Something will have to be done.”
When brother and sister Charlie and Ros discover that they have inherited their aunt’s grand English country house, they must decide if they should sell it. As they survey the effects of time on the estate’s architectural treasures, a narrative spanning two and a half centuries unfolds. We meet those who built the house, lived in it and loved it, worked in it, and those who would subvert it to their own ends. Each chapter is skillfully woven into the others so that the storylines of the upstairs and downstairs characters and their relatives and descendants intertwine to make a rich tapestry. A beautifully written novel full of humor, heart, and poignancy, Ashenden is an evocative portrait of a house that becomes a character as compelling as the people who inhabit it.
Wilhide, an interior design and architecture writer, delivers a tedious historical exploration of an 18th-century English estate house in her debut novel. When Charlie Minton and his sister, Ros, inherit Ashenden Park (based on an actual estate in Berkshire, England) from their recently deceased aunt, they are forced to decide its fate., The house's history is revealed through chronologically ordered flashbacks, one per chapter. The unidentified narrator, however, focuses more on the people whose lives revolve around the house; each chapter begins with a quick look at the house during that particular period before following the characters who then inhabit it. Unfortunately, there is little to thread this series of short stories together other than the building itself. As the supporting characters barely resurface from one chapter to the next, they are hardly given a chance to develop, and though the house is the intended central character, the execution is too disjointed, leaving the reader uninvested in the story. Though the descriptions of time and place befit an author who has made her name in the design and d cor world, Wilhide's ho-hum book lacks narrative tightness.