Published: June 10th, 2021
Publisher: Manilla Press
Genre: Historical Fiction, Gothic Fiction, Mystery
Format: Hardcover, Kindle, Audio
I am finally getting around to sharing my review of this spectacular novel. Thank you to Manilla press for the gifted ARC and Jenna at Tasting Notes Book Club for hosting a fantastic readalong and chat.
‘Something’s not right here.’
I was aware of Mr Booth’s eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. ‘What do you mean?’
‘In the house. With the family.’
West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.
Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the ‘angel of the house’ Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.
Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.
“I just have a feeling that… That something’s not right here.”
My love for Stacey Halls is no secret and her debut novel, The Familiars, remains one of my favourite books of all time. So I had high expectations when this, her third book, was released in June. She did not disappoint and though it has taken me a long time to get around to sharing this review, Mrs England is one of my favourite books of 2021.
Atmospheric and eerie, this slow-burning novel sent shivers down my spine. Though I read it at the height of summer, there is an iciness to it that I felt deep in my bones. Ms. Halls has said that she immersed herself in the landscape in which she set the novel, living there in complete isolation during the winter of early 2020. This has certainly shone through in her vivid imagery of the bleak, desolate landscape, and evocative descriptions of the isolation and menace that pervades the halls of Hardcastle House. Merged with unexpected twists and an air of mystery and foreboding, it comes together to create an irresistible read that I couldn’t put down.
“I knew about secrets, and I knew, too, how one led to another. I was a fool for thinking she’d have no more.”
As with her previous books, Ms. Halls has taken inspiration from real life and crafted an exquisite work of her own imagination around it. I won’t tell you about the event that inspired this book as it would spoil one of the biggest twists, but she talks about it in the author’s notes and I loved how it was woven into the story. In this book she also explores coercive control with an honesty and sensitivity that I appreciated as a survivor of such abuse. It is clear that she has taken care to research it at length and really helps the reader understand the ways in which both the abusers and those who are abused behave, as well as the ripple effect it has on those around them.
“It was as though I’d stumbled into an upside-down world, where the master has taken the place of the mistress.”
Ruby May is a fascinating narrator. Born into an impoverished background, she gained a scholarship to the Norland Institute where she trained as one of it’s prestigious Nurses. She is clearly still cleaved to her family, not only sending half her wages home, but forced to never be too far away thanks to an invisible chain of guilt forged thanks to mysterious circumstances that are slowly revealed. Then there is Mrs. Lilian England herself, the antithesis of the stereotypical mistress of the house. She is an enigma, rarely emerging from her room, and cold and distant to her children. The strange way in which the whole England household is run perplexes Ruby and because we see the story through her eyes, we are also suspicious of Lilian. But we soon learn that things aren’t quite what they seem in the England home and I found my view of some of the characters shifted as the truth about this mysterious family unfurled.
Haunting, evocative, suspenseful and compelling, Stacey Halls has once again shown why she is one of my favourite authors. Mrs England is a must read for anyone who enjoys well-written historical fiction with a twist.
MEET THE AUTHOR:
Stacey Halls was born in Lancashire and worked as a journalist before her debut The Familiars was published in 2019. The Familiars was the bestselling debut hardback novel of that year, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Book of the Year. The Foundling, her second novel, was also a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Mrs England is her third novel.
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Thanks for reading Bibliophiles☺️ Emma xxx