What evil lies within a family’s secret history? “A first-class creeper, a literary ghost story in the Victorian tradition” by the author of The Séance (The Boston Globe).
Timid, solitary librarian Gerard Freeman lives for just two things: his elusive pen pal, Alice, and a story he found hidden in his mother’s drawer years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at his mother’s role in a sinister crime. And as he discovers more of Viola’s chilling tales, he realizes that they might hold the key to finding Alice and unveiling his family’s mystery.
But upon returning to his ancestral home in England, Gerard finds that the stories-within-stories of his past begin to blur the lines between fact, fiction, and fantasy. They’re also driving him so deep into the dark that he might not be able to see what’s right in front of him until it’s too late.
“A haunting literary gothic” (Booklist) that has earned extraordinary critical acclaim, this novel is “a Victorian ghost story that honors the likes of Dickens and Henry James . . . A smart, stylish and mesmerizing book” (The Washington Post Book World).
“Intricate and engrossing. . . . One ghoulishly absorbing read.” —Entertainment Weekly
Sly nods to spooky literary spinsters Henry James's Miss Jessel and Dickens's Miss Havisham set the tone for this confident debut, a gothic suspense novel with a metatextual spin. Gerard Freeman grows up on the windswept southern coast of Australia in the late 20th century with a controlling mother strangely silent about the details of her childhood in England. His only solace is steadfast English pen friend, Alice, to whom he confides everything. What was Gerard's mother, Phyllis, hoping to escape when she left England? The protagonist slowly pieces together his mother's past with the aid of short stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola. These cunning tales, filled with supernatural occurrences and s ances, are seamlessly embedded in the main narrative, offering Gerard and readers enticing clues into his troubled family's history. After Phyllis's death, her newly liberated son travels to England, hoping to learn more and to pursue elusive Alice. As he searches through the country house his mother inhabited long ago, Gerard finds past and present fusing in horrifying fashion. In the hands of a lesser novelist, sustaining several plot lines might have been difficult. But the novel links textual investigation and sublimated passion, building to a satisfying, unexpected ending.