When Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor during the long, languid summer of 1933, she finds a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets. Sadness permeates its empty rooms and the isolated valley seems crowded with ghosts, none more alluring than Elizabeth Stanton whose only traces remain in a few tantalisingly blurred photographs. Why will no one speak of her? What happened a generation ago to make her vanish?As the sun beats down relentlessly, Alice becomes ever more determined to unearth the truth about the girl in the photograph - and stop her own life from becoming an eerie echo of Elizabeth's . . .
The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan will be published by Penguin on 15 January 2015,
The novel opens with a short prologue, narrated by Alice in 1936 and sets the scene for the fairly long and complex story to follow.
Alice then goes back four years, to 1932 when she finds herself left heartbroken by a man. Her mother quickly arranges for Alice to move to Fiercombe Manor, safely away from the prying eyes and cruel words of friends and neighbours.
Fiercombe Manor is as far away from the busy, lively streets of London as Alice can possibly imagine. She spends her days polishing silver and taking walks through the house and the grounds, whilst battling the oppressive heat of the summer which seems to make the Manor and its occupants all the more mysterious.
There are many mysteries within the walls of the Manor house, and Alice finds it difficult to get clear answers from anyone about the previous occupants of the house. She is aware of a presence in the house, she is frightened by aromas and glimpses of shadowy figures, she stumbles across abandoned rooms and secret drawers, and soon becomes obsessed with the story of Elizabeth Stanton; once lady of the manor, and now rarely mentioned.
Interwoven with Alice's account of her summer at Fiercombe is Elizabeth's own story. Some chapters are dedicated to Elizabeth and her family, and some of her background is discovered in Alice's story, through old letters and a diary that Alice discovers.
Kate Riordan has created an epic story in The Girl in the Photograph, her writing is atmospheric and very descriptive, and although her female characters are large, it was the depiction of the houses and the estate that captivated me the most. The air of mystery and sadness that pervades the walls of Fiercombe Manor is so well done, making the house the lead character of the story.
I particularly enjoyed Elizabeth's story, which touched on quite personal and controversial issues, especially for the period in which it is set. There are some shocking practices regarding the treatment of mental health during the late 1800s that add another dimension to the story. I wasn't so keen on Alice as a character and felt that she lacked depth. She's young and naive, but not incredibly likeable and I found some of her behaviour quite annoying, it really was Elizabeth that saved Alice's part of the story for me.
The Girl in the Photograph is enjoyable, and well written with a good plot that reaches a surprising conclusion. There were parts that dragged for me, especially during Alice's story, but on the whole it's a good story and the sense of place and descriptive passages are excellent.
My thanks to Real Readers and Penguin who supplied my copy for review.
Kate Riordan is a journalist who has previously worked for the Guardian and Time Out.
She is now freelance and lives in Cheltenham
For more information about the author, visit her website www.kateriordan.com
Follow her on Twitter @KateRiordanUK