A debut novel for fans of Sarah Perry and Kate Morton: when a young woman is tasked with safeguarding a natural history collection as it is spirited out of London during World War II, she discovers her new manor home is a place of secrets and terror instead of protection.
In August 1939, thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright arrives at Lockwood Manor to oversee a natural history museum collection whose contents have been taken out of London for safekeeping. She is unprepared for the scale of protecting her charges from party guests, wild animals, the elements, the tyrannical Major Lockwood, and Luftwaffe bombs. Most of all, she is unprepared for the beautiful and haunted Lucy Lockwood.
For Lucy, who has spent much of her life cloistered at Lockwood, suffering from bad nerves, the arrival of the museum brings with it new freedoms. But it also resurfaces memories of her late mother and nightmares in which Lucy roams Lockwood, hunting for something she has lost.
When the animals appear to move of their own accord and exhibits go missing, Hetty and Lucy begin to wonder what exactly it is that they might need protection from. And as the disasters mount, it is not only Hetty’s future employment that is in danger but her own sanity. There’s something, or someone, in the house. Someone stalking her through its darkened corridors . . .
Healey animates the dusty halls of an old English manor house during Hitler's bombing blitz in her impassioned if mannered debut. Assigned to safeguard a London museum's taxidermied specimens during the Luftwaffe bombing campaign, assistant curator Hetty Cartwright accompanies the collection to the countryside. Lockwood Manor, home of Lord Lockwood, aka the major, though, is an ominous refuge. The house's occupants include the major's frail, grown daughter Lucy, whom he suggests should "not to be troubled with too many difficulties or dramas," and their few remaining servants, and Healey conjures an eerie vibe with empty rooms and bricked-up dead end passageways. Each night, the museum's animals seem to move on their own, shifting from rooms and cabinets, even disappearing. As Hetty and Lucy become close, Lucy shares stories about her mother's descent into madness, evoking the Victorian theme of the madwoman in the attic and revealing the truth behind her unhealthy state. The story's satisfying conclusion redeems the creaky period prose ("I cared not a jot"). This will be of interest for fans of revisionist gothic narratives in the vein of Sarah Perry's Melmoth.
Never Quite Got Into It
The Animals at Lockwood Manor is an interesting story, but I couldn’t really get into it. The two primary characters were a little lackluster. I hoped they would find some strength and overcome their circumstances, but never really found their power. There were some darker elements, but more gothic than twisted. The ghostly elements never really hit home for me either.
The most interesting part of the book was how the museums worked with private estates during the war. I had known about these homes turning into hospitals and convalescent homes, but had not heard much about them being used to house museum wares, and how those deals went down, so that was interesting to read about.
It felt a little like Jane Eyre to me. And if you see that as a plus, then you should give this book a try, but if like me, the Bronte’s aren’t among your favorites, I don’t think I’d recommend it.