Rebecca James unveils a chilling modern gothic novel of a family consumed by the shadows and secrets of its past in The Woman in the Mirror.
For more than two centuries, Winterbourne Hall has stood atop a bluff overseeing the English countryside of Cornwall and the sea beyond. Enshrouded by fog and enveloped by howling winds, the imposing edifice casts a darkness over the town.
In 1947, Londoner Alice Miller accepts a post as governess at Winterbourne, looking after twin children Constance and Edmund for their widower father, Captain Jonathan de Grey. Falling under the de Greys’ spell, Alice believes the family will heal her own past sorrows. But then the twins’ adoration becomes deceitful and taunting. Their father, ever distant, turns spiteful and cruel. The manor itself seems to lash out. Alice finds her surroundings subtly altered, her air slightly chilled. Something malicious resents her presence, something clouding her senses and threatening her very sanity.
In present day New York, art gallery curator Rachel Wright has learned she is a descendant of the de Greys and heir to Winterbourne. Adopted as an infant, she never knew her birth parents or her lineage. At long last, Rachel will find answers to questions about her identity that have haunted her entire life. But what she finds in Cornwall is a devastating tragic legacy that has afflicted generations of de Greys. A legacy borne from greed and deceit, twisted by madness, and suffused with unrequited love and unequivocal rage.
There is only one true mistress of Winterbourne. She will not tolerate any woman who dares to cross its threshold and call it home. Those who do will only find a reflection of their own wicked sins and an inherited vengeance.
James's haunting, if flawed, debut centers on a mysterious manor, Winterbourne Hall, on the coast of Cornwall. In 1947, Alice Miller arrives at the house as a governess to care for the twin children of Jonathan de Grey, a moody and handsome widower who was injured during WWII. At first, Alice thinks of the placement as idyllic, but as she learns more about the family, she discovers deep and disturbing secrets. The house seems to come alive, too, and the spirits that inhabit it want her gone. Meanwhile, in the present day, New Yorker Rachel Wright, who was adopted and never knew her birth family, is surprised to learn of an inheritance from unknown English relatives ruined Winterbourne Hall. After she arrives in Cornwall, Rachel becomes enthralled by the house and its history. Unfortunately, the plot stumbles with a too neat ending involving characters who arrive late to the story. Until then, the author maintains a scary and atmospheric mood, and the descriptions of the house and the surrounding landscape are stunning. Readers will be eager to see what James does next.