Another creepy dose of gothic madness and melancholia. 4/5 stars.
Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with an e-copy of this book via NetGalley.
Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.
Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last…
I’ve read and enjoyed Purcell’s previous two books. The Silent Companions is a masterclass in creating an oppressive atmosphere and a big spooky house for characters to rattle around in. I didn’t feel The Corset was quite as successful, but it was another entertaining story with plenty of twists and turns. As with her previous books, in Bone China it is in creating atmosphere that the author excels. From the first page there is a pervading sense of dread and unseen malevolent presences. The gloomy weather, hostile geography and ancient superstitions of the Cornish setting seem to conspire to further unhinge all the narrators and place the reader in the uncomfortable position of not knowing quite what to believe.
The historical details are well-researched and interesting. The tragedy of TB or “consumption” – a disease easily cured today – which killed so many while family and friends had to look on helplessly, is brought to life effectively and affectingly.
The time-shifts and three different narrators are also handled deftly. When I saw the long character list at the start of the book I was worried I would never be able to keep track of it all. However I was never once confused, and each part of the story was coherent and easy to follow. Unfortunately, I did feel that the time shifts, though effective, prevented us from spending enough unbroken time with any of the characters to come to truly care about them. This may explain why I didn’t find the narrative as gripping or creepy as The Silent Companions. Nor was I sure that the connections between the past and present were strong enough, certainly not to pre-empt the final shock at the end of the book (no spoilers!).
Overall: don’t expect a horror or thriller from Bone China, but rather a sinister chiller with characters torn between rational and supernatural explanations for the strangeness which surrounds and slowly envelops them.