Tuesday, June 30, 2020

The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell

Laura Purcell's previous novel The Poison Thread was my top read of 2019, so I had high hopes for this next novel. And while it was good, and full of what I've come to think of as Purcell's trademark style, it fell a little short of my expectations. Gothic? Check. Creepy? Check. But a bit thin on the plot, and it left me a little confused. 

Told in two storylines, the novel centers around Hester Why, who has traveled to the Cornish coast to take on nursing duties for Louise Pinecroft, the sickly head of the quintessential gothic Cornish home called Morvoren House. Hester is about as unreliable a narrator as you can get: an unquenchable thirst for gin, a sipper of stolen laudanum, and a women so wracked with insecurity and jealousy that she's done some pretty bad things in her previous employment. She's a mess, and someone who just keeps digging the hole she's in, letting it get deeper and deeper. 

Once at Morvoren House, Hester realizes everyone there is a bit odd. Creeda is convinced fairies are all around; she takes care of Rosewyn, who is an adult woman dressed as a child, and kept pretty much under lockdown in the home. Louise Pinecroft sits in a freezing room day and night, staring at a wall of bone china. Yes, it's a home jam packed with a lot of odd. All this talk of fairies gets Hester flustered, and disbelieving, of course. But it gets harder and harder to believe anything Hester sees, says or does as she increases her doses of laudanum and gin just to get through the hours of the day. 

Meanwhile, we also travel back 40 years, to when Louise and her father, a former esteemed doctor, set up an experiment in the caves below the house: consumptive men are housed in the caves with the belief that the cool ocean air will help cure them. Instead, a whole lot of weird is happening, and Louise is torn between believing in her father's cause, and believing that the men in the cave are under threat from something unseen but definitely felt. 

Both plots come together towards the end, with not much of a surprise at all. I did really enjoy the end-specifically the last page or so. I loved how it ended suddenly and quite abruptly. But otherwise, I wish I had a few more answers to some of the bits of plot that were a bit foggy. 

If you want gothic mixed with Cornish folktales, this is for you. If you're looking for a novel about happy fairies aka Tinkerbell, look elsewhere. These otherworldly creatures are not nice. Nope. Not at all. 

I'll keep reading Laura Purcell's novels, because she weaves an interesting story, full of dysfunctional people who always leave you wondering if what they're saying is actually true. However, this one just missed the mark for me. 

Rating: 3/6 for an interesting idea for a novel about the dark side of Cornish folktales that fell a bit short for me. Full of cold winds, creepy characters, and bone china that will make you shudder, this tale is for those who enjoy their gothic with the lights on and some salt laid on the doorstep to keep them safe from what wants to come in.

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

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