Publication date: Jan 8, 2013
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
When Charlie and Ros inherit their aunt’s elaborate eighteenth century English country mansion, they’re torn on what to do with it. The reader is then flung back in time over the years to experience, in clip-show fashion, the ups and downs of the house’s historical past. Each chapter builds another piece of the story, skipping ahead until the present day and the siblings’ present conundrum.
The author takes a common setting and pieces together a history of England over the last two-hundred-fifty years. I appreciated the ties to historical events, and it was interesting to read about how the house itself evolved and changed from owner to owner and era to era.
Though I’m a huge fan of historical fiction, I had trouble following the timeline of the novel, until it got into the latter part of the book, the twentieth century, which is obviously more familiar history. There really wasn’t much to distinguish one era from the next in the early chapters, and although there were many descriptions of the house itself, I also didn’t feel like I had a good mental picture of the setting, either, aside from the octagon room, where many of the events took place. Some of the stories didn’t even take place in the house, but in the nearby village, or the homes of some of the workers of Ashenden. Each time a chapter ended, I felt a bit let down — as if the author had many ideas for plot beginnings and middles, but was lacking on the endings. Often these plots were “resolved” by a single line in the last chapter, but sometimes they weren’t ever mentioned again.
With the characters changing up every chapter, I felt a bit adrift, not sure if I should become attached to them, or if they’d disappear in the next segment, never to be heard from again. People whom I thought would play a major role ended up forgotten (Maria… Dido… Pudge… the writer who had the affair with the bored, rich woman) without another word. Many of the characters were so nondescript and had such common names that I had trouble keeping track of who was who — all the Jameses and Edwards and Hendersons and Hastings all kind of blended together in my memory, and when a name would come up in later chapters, I’d recognize that it was used previously, but not be able to make the connection without looking back to see “now who was that??”
As another note, there was some unnecessarily vulgar language among the present-time characters (I got rather sick of reading the F word), and some sexual content that was a bit “too much information,” if you ask me.
Overall, it was a bit slow and hard to follow for me, but those interested in reading about the common, everyday lives of people throughout history, specifically in England, will likely find this novel a well-researched testament to the way that history shapes all around us.
Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy of this book!