Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Author: Sadie Jones
Publisher: Chatto & Windus, 2012
Genre: Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Crowns
The story, which takes place over the course of one day, begins on an April morning in 1912 and is set at Sterne, a rundown country manor purchased by Horace Torrington who then, unfortunately, died suddenly leaving heavy debts and his family facing the loss of their home. Charlotte his widow has since remarried Edward Swift, a man her three children Emerald, Clovis and Smudge dislike. On this April morning Edward is leaving for Manchester to try and raise a loan to save Sterne.
At home the preparations are beginning for the elegant supper party to be held that evening in honour of Emerald's twentieth birthday. While the family outwardly attempts to keep up appearances their financial difficulties mean they have to make do with only two servants who must fill every role from cook to lady's maid and the normally rigid divide between upstairs and downstairs becomes rather blurred.
I really enjoyed this first part of the story. It has a lightedhearted and comic tone that gently pokes fun at Edwardian upper class pretensions and the attention to period detail provides a fascinating glimpse of everything from the kitchen to the boudoirs.
Then news is received that there has been a terrible train accident a few miles away and Sterne must offer refuge to survivors until the railway authorities can send help. Eventually a bedraggled group of third class passengers appear and are unceremoniously bundled into a cold room, given a complimentary cup of tea and left to their own devices . Except for one first class passenger who is determined to join the evening's festivities and cause as much trouble as he can. Then there is the youngest daughter, Smudge, who takes advantage of the chaos to proceed with her Great Undertaking.
With the presence of the uninvited the mood of the story changes.It becomes darker, quite sinister and spooky and increasingly bizarre with the surreal feeling of a strange dream .
I loved it! Very original, a deliciously witty commentary on Edwardian manners and attitudes, a ghost story and a clever foretelling of the future.
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Royal Reviewer Cat at 9:32 AM