Sunday, September 20, 2020

Review: The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell

by Laura Purcell
Release Date: June 9th 2020
2020 Penguin Group
Softcover Edition; 336 Pages
ISBN: 978-0143135531
Genre: Fiction / Gothic
Source: Review copy from publisher
2 / 5 Stars
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.
My Thoughts
The House of Whispers, also released as Bone China, is the latest Gothic book by Laura Purcell.  While I enjoyed her previous book, The Silent Companions, I was not a big fan of some of her other work, and this book, despite its sweeping timeline and its eerie setting, left a lot to be desired.  The author tried very hard to convey this eerie atmosphere with the isolated house, the dark secrets, the 'adopted' strange daughter, the mysterious past, and the strange behaviour of its owner, but the whole thing was a mishmash of nothing and I only finished it because I..., and I hesitate to say 'was curious, wanted to see how the author was going to pull it all together.  And I'll be honest in admitting it just didn't work for me.
What I did like: The atmosphere and the writing.  I will admit this author can write really well and create an atmospheric story.  She was able to take a lot of the local folklore and weave it into her story and I did find that part of it quite interesting.  Typically, her work will take this atmosphere and weave it around the tensions and personalities of her characters to create an interesting story line and lots of tension.  However, in this book, the characters were quite weak and I didn't really enjoy the story line as I found it to be quite disjointed and by the midpoint of the book, I was still searching for the whole point of the book.  Dual timelines have never bothered me, but for the life of me, I just couldn't figure out the point of them in this book.  The way it was done left me feeling uncertain as to which person the author wanted me to focus on and therefore, neither story line felt developed.  Personally, I would have focused on Hester, developed her story line, give her a personality, and used that amazing atmosphere to really create something interesting and mysterious.  Unfortunately, the way it was done became a crutch that I just couldn't get through.  
As for the characters, they were definitely under-developed.  I personally didn't like Hester as a character, but if more time had been devoted to her story line, perhaps I would have been able to empathize with her a little bit more.  However, she came across as so needy and selfish, trying to ensure her mistresses really needed her to the point of being obsessive and while I think I was supposed to be sympathetic, it actually turned me right off her character.  While the author described her being strong during a time period where women were not treated equally to men, she certainly didn't come across that way.  Don't get me wrong, I don't have a problem with a character being unlikable, but there usually is a reason for it, whether through a character's thoughts, deeds, actions, and so on, but there was really nothing given to the reader for her behaviours.
The House of Whispers, as a whole, did not work for me.  I hated the ending simply because the author did not pull all the plot lines together and simply left them creating a disjointed mess at the end.  I don't have a problem with ambiguous endings, however I do have a problem with endings that are left so loose you can't find the threads floating in the wind.  And if you are going to create a spooky atmosphere, you really need to use it and exploit it, not use familiar tropes to do so, especially ones that don't develop the plot or the characters.  As usual however, I always encourage people to read a book and judge it for themselves, and while I am really sad to say it, I think it may be quite a while before I read another book by this author.



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