2015, 450 p.
What’s not to like about this? It’s a ‘Big House’ book, set in the years following World War I, with blurbs by Hilary Mantel and Amanda Foreman. I’m a sucker for Big House books- Brideshead Revisited, Atonement, Molly Keane novels- and I really enjoyed the post WWI setting of Sarah Waters’ The Paying Guests. The front cover (complete with a picture of backs) and the large font of my copy made me feel as if I was reading a Mills & Boon novel and so I nestled into this book as if it were a comfort read.
It’s probably more than that. It is carefully researched (perhaps a little too carefully researched in places) and it picks up on themes like the dearth of men after WWI; the rush to spiritualism by bereaved families; and the effect of rising death duties on the Big House in a twentieth century that no longer pays deference to them and their crusty families.
Nonetheless, there are some well-worn tropes here. Oskar Grunewalk, his name anglicized to Oscar Greenwood in those anti-German days, is the young outsider boy who flits around the edges of the golden family ensconced in the Big House, humiliated by and ill-at-ease with the favoured children of the family. There are two sisters, each very different from the other. Oscar is a mathematics prodigy, with an almost autistic fascination with numbers and details, and although treated as an interloper by the glamorous Melville family, he loves the old house, Ellinghurst.
The book opens with the funeral of Sir Aubrey Melville, and we know that Oscar now -somehow- has charge of Ellinghurst. The question of how this has come about is the narrative thread that draws you through the book, and it did it well enough to find me reading the book in snatches, furtively, wishing that it wasn’t so cliched and yet enjoying the fact that it was.
My rating: 7.5
Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library
Read because: it was sitting there on the ‘New Books’ shelf.