Completion Date: August 3, 2011
Reason for Reading: Received a review copy from Harper Collins via NetGalley.
Following the death of their grandmother, Erica Calcott and her sister Beth return to Storton Manor, a grand and imposing house in Wiltshire, England, where they spent their summer holidays as children. When Erica begins to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, she is flooded with memories of her childhood—and of her cousin, Henry, whose disappearance from the manor tore the family apart.I requested this book from NetGalley because I heard it was being compared to Kate Morton and Diana Setterfeld. I love both of those authors, so I knew I was going to have to try and read the book. The book shifts time periods from the early 1900s to closer to the present day. The early viewpoint is about a young woman that finds herself marrying a farmer. This leads to her leaving the big city of New York and taking up residence in the vast, empty spaces of Oklahoma. It is a huge adjustment for her, and one that she doesn't necessarily thrive in. There are a lot of problems for her along the way and it is not an easy time for her.
Erica sets out to discover what happened to Henry—so that the past can be laid to rest, and her sister, Beth, might finally find some peace. Gradually, as Erica begins to sift through remnants of the past, a secret family history emerges: one that stretches all the way back to Oklahoma in the 1900s, to a beautiful society heiress and a haunting, savage land. As past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two terrible acts of betrayal—and the heartbreaking legacy left behind.
The other half of the book is told by this young woman's great-granddaughter. Erica and Beth's grandmother has died leaving them her large house, Storton Manor. The agreement is that either they decide to live in it together or they sell it. They have arrived just around the Christmas holidays to begin sorting through years of accumulated things. While there a young boy from their past reappears all grown up and adds to Erica's desire to figure out a secret from their past. She was there, but she has blocked things out. Beth knows the truth and it has been killing her slowly for years. She is depressed, anorexic, and there have been suicide attempts. Erica believes that if she figures out the secret of Cousin Henry it will help save Beth from guilt.
The novel switches back and forth between the two viewpoints. Erica is slowly getting to know her great-grandmother better through objects of hers still left in the house. It is apparent that Catherine was hiding a huge secret of her own. There is more than one skeleton in Storton Manors closets. The reader, though, knows the truth of Catherine's secret. Her young husband is tragically killed and part of her dies, too. She never fully recovers from the events of her first marriage. A marriage that is kept a secret when she goes to remarry so as to make her chances better. This second marriage is not a happy one and it further sinks Catherine into despair. She is not a very nice mother to her daughter and it will have repercussions through the generations.
I enjoyed this book. I have to admit that I had solved the mystery, but I still wanted to read on to make sure that I was right. I couldn't help feeling bad for Catherine. She had a tough life and she was largely misunderstood by the end of it. She lived to be very old and no one really knew her. There were too many secrets and part of her had been dead for many years. She was never able to fully recover and carried the love of her first husband until the day she died. It was a sad story-line. Then, you have Erica trying to solve all of the mysteries in her family. She fears that she is losing her sister and will do anything possible to get her back. I enjoyed reading about her rummaging in the attic and cleaning out the other rooms. That house had been in the family for many years, so there was plenty of time to collect a fair bit of treasures.
I think if you like elements from Kate Morton and Diane Setterfeld's novels, you will appreciate finding them in this book. It wasn't perfect, but it was enjoyable. It had a bit of a mystery to tie everything together and I felt that Webb captured the early 20th-century lifestyle very well. This was a good introduction to Katherine Webb and I look forward to more from her in the future because I imagine she will just get better.
This book counts for the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge.