Catherine is a successful London barrister who has recently lost an important case, when she starts to see a face that she recognizes from her distant past and her house is broken into. It’s time to face the secret of her past that twines her family with that of the family at the country estate, Vanes, and the strange ancient ritual of gathering honey. A ritual that more than once has ended in tragedy.
Harriet Evans has written quite a few books, but I don’t think I have read any of her other books. I liked this one though.
The book is in parts, with a different characters perspective for each part, showing us the full story by the end of the book. We start in the present, or 2018, and then go back to the 80’s, and back further to the 50s, with the pieces falling into place slowly. There is a sense of mystery and some thriller elements, but I think this is best described as Gothic fiction or English country home drama. This book has been compared to Kate Morton, which I think is a pretty good reference point.
I really like Gothic fiction, with it’s big old houses, female protagonists with too much curiosity and dark family secrets. I found the idea of a weird family ritual tradition that revolved around bees (I love bees) to be really intriguing, and I liked how the author only told us very slowly about the story behind this and the family lore. It reminded me a bit of stories like the Wicker Man, though the story didn’t really go in that direction.
I liked Catherine as our main character. She really goes through a lot, and I wanted things to come out for her in the end, even as I wasn’t sure that she was an innocent as she seemed. All the characters are quite flawed and sometimes make terrible decisions, but they felt real and rounded to me. There are a few bad guys in the book, but they aren’t one dimensional.
Something that struck me about this book, that came up a few times throughout the narrative, is how characters who are victims of tragedy are treated or feel like they are treated. When things go wrong, rather than offering help or compassion, people offer scorn, blame and aversion. People sometimes want to believe everything is fine in their world, so they accuse the victim of making things up. What we might call victim blaming. As though the trauma that they’ve been through might be catching. The author compares it to leprosy at one point, and lepers are a motif in the story. Sadly, this does happen in real life, and it was used well in this book to show how easily a victim can be isolated or fall through the cracks, and then be re-traumatized by those who can prey on them.
This book is chunky and winding, one to spend some time with, and I enjoyed it. It does get a little dark, as Gothic fiction can do, but it’s not overly confronting or graphic. I loved the sense of tension as we know bad things are coming, but we don’t have all the pieces yet. The crumbling home, the vague sense of dread as the ritual approaches or as Catherine runs from her own life, and all the secrets different characters are keeping, it makes for a good read.
Read It If: you like deeper reads that take place in crumbling ancestral homes, with plenty of family secrets and unusual ancient traditions. It’s a bit dark and quite entertaining.
Thank you to HBG Canada for the copy of this book for review.