Another book review roundup, another trio. Today, I’ll be discussing workplace thriller, The New Girl, gothic mystery The Secrets of Hartwood Hall and the quietly beautiful The Phone Box at the Edge of the World.
THE NEW GIRL – ★
How far would someone go to replace you? A new mother on maternity leave grows increasingly paranoid about her ambitious young temp in this debut from the fashion editor at The Times.
Margot is the object of every woman’s envy: as an editor at Haute, she has a glamorous job, a beautiful new baby girl, a seemingly perfect life. But when Margot’s lifelong friend, Winnie, loses her own newborn boy, their shared dream of pushing strollers together turns to ash. And then there is the matter of Margot’s maternity temp: bright, plucky, ambitious Maggie–the young woman Margot chose, but who now seems to be trying to eclipse her in every possible way.
When a cyber-stalker emerges, mocking Margot’s façade of perfection and threatening to expose a dark secret she’s spent years repressing, Margot feels attacked from all sides. Soon, the innocent preoccupations of motherhood spiral quickly–and perhaps lethally–into a frightening and irretrievable paranoia.
I’ll be very honest in saying that I didn’t make it to the end of The New Girl. Told from the three perspectives of magazine fashion editor and new mum Margot, Maggie, Margot’s maternity cover, and Winnie, Margot’s childhood best friend, Harriet Walker’s debut struggles to get off the ground. Billed as an intense thriller packed with jealousy, rage and paranoia, The New Girl is anything but.
While Margot was quite insufferable, the real issue was the pacing. The New Girl is excruciating slow and the multiple POVs made for a confusing mess. I kept waiting and waiting, hoping and praying, for the story to go somewhere… it never did. The only thing mysterious about The New Girl is the fact its described as a ‘Hitchcockian’ thriller.
THE SECRETS OF HARTWOOD HALL – ★★★★
Nobody ever goes to Hartwood Hall. Folks say it’s cursed…
It’s 1852 and Margaret Lennox, a young widow, attempts to escape the shadows of her past by taking a position as governess to an only child, Louis, at an isolated country house in the west of England. But Margaret soon starts to feel that something isn’t quite right. There are strange figures in the dark, tensions between servants, and an abandoned east wing. Even stranger is the local gossip surrounding Mrs. Eversham, Louis’s widowed mother, who is deeply distrusted in the village.
Lonely and unsure whom to trust, Margaret finds distraction in a forbidden relationship with the gardener, Paul. But as Margaret’s history threatens to catch up with her, it isn’t long before she learns the truth behind the secrets of Hartwood Hall..
Gothic fiction done right! As a fan of the Brontes, their influence can be felt throughout The Secrets of Hartwood Hall and it makes for such a compelling and atmospheric debut. Taking place in an isolated country house where villagers whisper of curses and a ghost who roams the halls, it’s a fast moving novel full of blackmail, illicit romances, ghostly goings on and plenty of secrets.
While the reveal wasn’t as crazy as I had been hoping for, Katie Lumsden’s writing is so elegant and engimatic, perfectly capturing the essence of Victorian era novels. The characters were fun and mysterious – there was plenty to be suspicious of and I had a great time trying to work out what secrets they were hiding.
Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca and Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger are two of my favourite books of all time and at times, The Secrets of Hartwood Hall had a touch of the same magnetic darkness and intrigue found in those novels. The romantic plot along with a select few of the uncovered secrets didn’t quite land and pack the same punch as Du Maurier and Waters but other than that, it was a brilliant and sophisticated gothic mystery. I look forward to reading more from Lumsden in the future!
THE PHONE BOX AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD – ★★★★
We all have something to tell those we have lost. When Yui loses her mother and daughter in the tsunami, she wonders how she will ever carry on. Yet, in the face of this unthinkable loss, life must somehow continue.
Then one day she hears about a man who has an old disused telephone box in his garden. There, those who have lost loved ones find the strength to speak to them and begin to come to terms with their grief. As news of the phone box spreads, people will travel there from miles around. Soon Yui will make her own pilgrimage to the phone box, too. But once there she cannot bring herself to speak into the receiver. Then she finds Takeshi, a bereaved husband whose own daughter has stopped talking in the wake of their loss.
What happens next will warm your heart, even when it feels as though it is breaking.
Based on the real story of the ‘wind phone’, an unconnected telephone booth in Ōtsuchi, The Phone Box at the Edge of the World is a devastatingly beautiful and tender story of grief, loss and love. People have pilgrimaged to this phone box to find call their loved ones who have passed away, especially those affected in the tsunami of 2011.
The book focuses on Yui, whose mother and daughter were swept away in the tsunami, and Takeshi, a doctor whose young daughter refuses to speak following the death of his wife. Other characters join them on the journey to Ōtsuchi and it was absolutely beautiful seeing them find solace in each other as well as in their memories. The translation was seamless and for a book loaded with such heavy themes, it never once felt depressing or bleak. Yes, it explores the depths of grief and sadness but there are many glimmers of hope throughout The Phone Box at the Edge of World.
I didn’t anticipate how much this book would impact me emotionally. It’s an unexpectedly soothing read that lingers long after you’ve finished it, especially if, like me, you’ve lost a loved one and have battled with complex feelings of despair and anger that grief often brings.