“I didn’t like the thought of Genevieve’s mother having our boy all to herself. I imagined her dusting him down, metaphorically, and wiping any trace of me from him. I imagined her wrapping him up in Genevieve again like a lamb wrapped in the bloodied fleece of another to disguise its smell.”
Sarah is running away from personal tragedy and relationship breakdown – and runs headlong into Alexander’s life. She eagerly takes on a job as housekeeper and nanny, not quite realising the height of the pedestal on which his presumed-deceased wife was held by the community. Sarah has to win over Genevieve’s family, put her own life to rights, and try to figure out what happened to Genevieve along the way.
There are strong Jane Eyre homage tones here – Sarah is haunted by Genevieve’s ghost metaphorically and a few times believes herself literally haunted; she is hired as a housekeeper/nanny although there’s a romantic angle with the father; she comes to the job running away from another existence and runs away from this job too at one point. But Douglas avoids falling into that trap (after all, with Rebecca enjoying such iconic status, why limit yourself to that story) and introduces a few other strands too.
Sarah herself is a bit odd; moves across the country and into someone’s home at a moment’s notice, and there are occasional doubts cast on her sanity – for a while I wondered if she was actually Genevieve and it was going to turn into a bizarre Stockholm Syndrome novel… She’s deeply affected by her stillbirth and the breakdown of her marriage, but then takes up a holiday fling quickly and the romance element bubbles on through the novel.
The village of Burrington Stoke is quite stifling for Sarah – everyone knew Genevieve and many are suspicious of Alexander, and naturally of Sarah now she has come to fill Genevieve’s shoes. Douglas writes a nearly closed-set of characters well, adding even more to Sarah’s feelings of unease. While the family house seems a little opulent, on the whole it had the feeling of a real place; ambitious, given the range of settings (Alex’s house, the family house, the mine, the school, pub, Claudia’s house… we do move around quite a lot).
This novel was selected for the Richard & Judy book club and while I don’t remember being all that positive about it as I read it, I can sort of understand why, given the various aspects I’ve discussed above. It suffers a little from falling between genres; it’s a thriller/family drama, but starts off as a pretty heady romance and there’s still thick romance strands every now and again, there’s a definite murder mystery angle although it’s not really followed up on… Good holiday reading if you’re not really sure what you want, I guess!