A classic ghost story …..
Roddy and Pamela are brother and sister, and they are searching the Devon coast to find a new home. He is a playwright who wants to escape the complications of London life, and she has just been released from years of caring for their sick father.
They find the house of their dreams. It stood alone not far from the edge of a cliff, it was uninhabited and it appeared to have been neglected for quite some time, but they saw its potential. And they saw a “for sale” sign.
They find the owner, an elderly man with a granddaughter just out of boarding school. He seems reluctant to sell the house, and reluctant to explain why, but Roddy is persuasive.
The house will be theirs.
Roddy and Pamela are full of ideas for refurbishing the house and making it into a home; and they dismiss local gossip that says that the house is haunted, and that terrified tenants had fled. They saw nothing amiss. They invite an old family retainer, Lizzie, to become their housekeeper; they enjoy the simple pleasures of life in the country; and they make plans to invite friends to stay.
All of this is wonderfully readable, and utterly of its time.
I liked Roddy and Pamela; I found it easy to understand who they were, where they were in life. The sibling relationship was particularly well drawn; they were a team.
They had thought things through; they knew that their circumstances were likely to change, that they wouldn’t always want to share a home, and they had made provision for that.
In between the house talk and the ghost talk there were allusions to their Irish home and it was clear that their roots and their history were important to them.
It was interesting to follow sensible, practical people into a ghost story.
It was obvious there was going to be a ghost story. Roddy was telling the story and the substance of the book was a manuscript, introduced by a letter explaining that it was an account of what had happened in Devon.
That meant that a degree of suspense was lost – I knew from the start that something had happened and I knew, from the tone, that the Fitzgerald’s had been able to put whatever had happened behind them.
During a housewarming party, a friend of Roddy and Pamela’s is profoundly disturbed by something she sees in the mirror of the spare bedroom. Roddy spends the next night in that spare bedroom, and finds himself overcome by fear and foreboding. And then, when Roddy and Pamela away from the house, Lizzie is terrified by something that she sees emerging from that room, something that she can not find the words to explain.
That is the turning point.
They know that something happened in that house. They suspect that it involves Stella, the granddaughter of the man who reluctantly sold them the house, because she is drawn to them and to that room.
The story unwinds slowly as Roderick and Pamela set about uncovering the history of their home, in the hope that when they know what has happened there they can somehow put things right. The mystery, the ghost story and the story of country life are beautifully wrapped together.
A romance grows between Roddy and Stella and that complicates the story; because the house had been Stella’s childhood home, because the haunting of the house had its roots in a tragedy that happened then, and because whenever the Fitzgerald’s saw the possibility of a resolution they also saw the possibility of harm to Stella.
I had an idea of how the mystery would pay out at an early stage, but that didn’t spoil the story. It was an utterly believable human tragedy, and I could understood how and why it had happened. And I was caught up with Roddy and Pamela as they struggled to work out what had happened and what they could, what they should, do.
The plot was was well thought out, it drew in a lovely range of people and incidents, and it had things to say. This story of ordinary people in extraordinary circumstance speaks of the importance of home, of the roles that mothers can play, and of the consequences of their absence.
I’d call this a very good – almost great – ghost story.
And a lovely period piece.