Published 15 January 2015 by Penguin
The Girl in the Photograph is a haunting and atmospheric novel that tells the tales of women in two different eras – the 1890’s and 1930’s – and how their lives seem to be entwined by fate. Kate Riordan’s novel is a beautifully dark and beguiling tale which will sweep you away. It will appeal to fans of Kate Morton and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca.
In the summer of 1933, Alice Eveleigh has arrived at Fiercombe Manor in disgrace. The beautiful house becomes her sanctuary, a place to hide her shame from society in the care of the housekeeper, Mrs Jelphs. But the manor also becomes a place of suspicion, one of secrecy.
Something isn’t right. Someone is watching.
There are secrets that the manor house seems determined to keep. Tragedy haunts the empty rooms and foreboding hangs heavy in the stifling heat. Traces of the previous occupant, Elizabeth Stanton, are everywhere and soon Alice discovers Elizabeth’s life eerily mirrors the path she herself is on.
* * *
When in the late spring of 1933, 20 year Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor in a Gloucestershire valley she is nearly 6 months pregnant by her married boyfriend. She has been sent there in disgrace from London by her parents. The housekeeper Mrs Jelphs is an old school friend of Alice’s mother and has been told that Alice is newly widowed and needs some peace and quiet for the duration of her confinement. From her first arrival at Fiercombe, Alice feels a disturbing presence and a sadness that pervades the walls of the manor. Mrs Jelphs has been at Fiercombe for decades but for some reason is reluctant to talk to Alice about the previous owners, Edward and Elizabeth Stanton which makes Alice even keener to find out more.
This is a dual narrative story told by Alice in the early 1930s and Elizabeth Stanton in 1898. Despite the decades between their stories, there are similarities in both women. Both are pregnant and both are constrained by the attitudes and traditions of their time. Alice has bought shame on her family and has to be hidden away.
Elizabeth is married to the cold hearted Edward Stanton. Although they have a little girl, Isabel, Edward makes no secret of his wish for a son to carry on his title and estate. Elizabeth has suffered badly with what we now know as post natal depression however in those times this was seen as madness and Elizabeth’s husband took full advantage of the rights he had over her. The lack of women’s rights, particularly on mental health issues, was very much highlighted in this novel and was quite shocking. Once you are married you sign away your money and your life to your husband – such a marked difference to how we live now.
This is quite a long and detailed story which leads to a gradual reveal of past events. Throughout it is very descriptive and atmospheric and has clearly been well researched. It is not a traditional ghost story but there is a supernatural element – the old manor definitely has echoes of the past and the unhappiness of the previous occupants can be felt by Alice. To fill her time, Alice explores the manor and the surrounding grounds and discovers a secret journal kept by Elizabeth and gradually we learn of her story.
Personally I enjoyed Elizabeth’s narration more than Alice’s and whenever Alice was the main focus, I was impatient to get back to Elizabeth. I felt that Elizabeth had a bit more of a spark to her when compared to Alice and I was intrigued to learn what had happened to her and why the fate of the Stantons was clouded in mystery.
I’m a big fan of this type of historical fiction and did enjoy the dual time aspect and mysterious background to the story. I would certainly like to read more by this author. There were times when I felt the descriptive text slowed down the story (although that could just be me being impatient to know what happens next!) but I can’t fault the writing for the atmospheric and evocative detail, particularly with regard to the old manor house and for bringing to life the searing heat of the summer and the oppressive feel of the valley where watches and clocks refused to work.
My thanks to Penguin who kindly provided the copy for review.
About the author:
Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist. She started out as an editorial assistant at the Guardian, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of Time Out. She now works freelance and lives in the Cotswolds, where she is currently working on her next novel.