I'm glad to say I enjoyed this even more than Eve Chase's first book, Black Rabbit Hall. While both books were beautifully written, I thought The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde was a more involving story. I also noticed that both books revolved around an old building which appears as an old wreck in the present day but a vibrant home in a previous era, and both include families of four children.
In current time, Applecoat Manor is purchased by Jessie and Will, who need to leave London to get away from negative influences in Will's teenage daughter's life. Will is recently married to Jessie after the death of his first wife, Mandy. Jessie had moved into Mandy's house and she is hoping the move into the countryside will also clear some of the memories of Mandy's presence. Her own child, Romy is still young and adores her step-sister, Bella, but Jessie isn't sure she can trust Bella to be alone with Romy. Circumstances necessitate that Will is in London for most of the week so Jessie has to juggle this new life alone, with a young child and a resentful step-daughter.
The house they buy had been the home of Sybil, Percy and their daughter, Audrey, until Audrey's disappearance in 1954. Sybil refuses to accept the possibility that Audrey might be dead and has kept her bedroom as it was when she last slept there.
Sybil's sister is an unconventional single mother to four vivacious daughters, Flora, Pam, Margot and Dot, and when the opportunity comes up for her to work a few months in Morocco, she asks if her girls can spend the summer at Applecoat Manor. The girls have not been back to the old house since Audrey's disappearance, although prior to that they had spent every summer there. Now, five years later, they return with trepidation. Their Aunt and Uncle welcome them but appear very different to the carefree parents they had once been.
What had happened to Audrey, and who is the young man being dragged across the grass in the dramatic opening pages of the book? What exactly went on during that long hot summer of 1954?
There is a wonderful collision between past and present, though I won't say any more about that.
As with Black Rabbit Hall, Eve Chase writes beautifully and with humour:
'At each corner of the pool stands a goddess statue, fragile, beautiful, broken, like survivors of some terrible natural disaster.' (Loc 625)
Romy: 'Where does the sky end and space begin?' 'If God is everywhere, is He in the bristles of my hairbrush?' (Loc 268)
I loved this book, wonderfully atmospheric, with totally convincing characters. The interactions between the four sisters were fascinating and the story held my attention. I did have a bit of a problem adjusting time frames but I'm sure that just reflects how involved I had become in the narrative.
Loved the cover too.
Black Rabbit Hall (3.5 stars)