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#Blogtour #HouseofGlass HOUSE OF GLASS by Susan Fletcher (@sfletcherauthor) (@ViragoBooks) A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole

 

House of Glass by Susan Fletcher A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel about what it means to be whole

June 1914 and a young woman – Clara Waterfield – is summoned to a large stone house in Gloucestershire. Her task: to fill a greenhouse with exotic plants from Kew Gardens, to create a private paradise for the owner of Shadowbrook. Yet, on arrival, Clara hears rumours: something is wrong with this quiet, wisteria-covered house. Its gardens are filled with foxgloves, hydrangea, and roses; it has lily-ponds, a croquet lawn – and the marvellous new glasshouse awaits her. But the house itself feels unloved. Its rooms are shuttered, or empty. The owner is mostly absent; the housekeeper seems afraid. And soon, Clara understands her fear: for something – or someone – is walking through the house at night. In the height of summer, she finds herself drawn deeper into Shadowbrook’s dark interior – and into the secrets that violently haunt this house. Nothing is quite what it seems.

Reminiscent of Daphne du Maurier, this is a wonderful, atmospheric Gothic page-turner.

A deeply absorbing, unputdownable ghost story that’s also a love story; for readers who love Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger; Frances Hodges Burnett’s The Secret Garden; Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace; Jane Harris’s The Observations.

Author Susan Fletcher
Author Susan Fletcher

Susan Fletcher took her inspiration from the gardens and grounds of Hidcote House, spending time in their archives and library, at different times of the year. One of the country’s great gardens, Hidcote is an Arts and Crafts masterpiece in the north Cotswolds, a stone’s throw from Stratford-upon-Avon. Created by the horticulturist, Major Lawrence Johnston. The garden is divided into a series of ‘outdoor rooms’, each with its own character. The formality of the ‘rooms’ fades away as you move through the garden away from the house.

https://www.amazon.com/House-Glass-Susan-Fletcher-ebook/dp/B078WDM9SF/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/House-Glass-Susan-Fletcher-ebook/dp/B078WDM9SF/

About the author:

Susan Fletcher was born in 1979 in Birmingham. She is the author of the bestselling ‘Eve Green’ winner of the Whitbread First Novel Award, ‘Oystercatchers’ and ‘Witch Light’.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Susan-Fletcher/e/B001ITYXNW/

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Virago Books for providing me an ARC copy of this book. I was later contacted by Kimberley Nyamhondera suggesting I take part in the blog tour for the launch of the book, and as I knew the author I immediately agreed.

I had read and reviewed another one of Susan Fletcher’s books (Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew, you can read my review here) a couple of years ago and loved it. When I checked my review, to remind myself what I had thought about it in more detail, I realised I could use almost word by word the same title for my review, although the subject of the novel is quite different. “A beautiful, contemplative, and touching novel.” Yes, this definitely applies to House of Glass as well. This time the story is set in the UK right before the breaking of the First World War, and in fact, there are rumours spreading about its likelihood already when the novel starts. It is a fascinating time, and the life of the protagonist, Clara Waterfield, is deeply affected by the historical period she has to live in, from her birth in very late Victorian times, to what would be a very changed world after the Great War, with the social upheaval, the rapid spread of industrialization, the changing role of women, and the all-too-brief peace.

Clara, who tells the story in the first person, is a great creation, who becomes dearer and dearer to us as we read the book. This is not a novel about a protagonist who is fully-formed, recognisable and unchanging, and runs across the pages from one action scene to the next hardly pausing to take a breather. Clara reflects upon her past (although she is very young, she has suffered greatly, but not lived much), her condition (she suffers from osteogenesis imperfecta, brittle bones, and that meant that she was kept indoors and not exposed to the risks and dangers of the outside world, the London streets in her case throughout her childhood), her family, and life experiences or her lack of them. No matter what she looks like, her short stature, her difficulty walking, her limitations in physical activity, this is a determined woman, make no mistake. She has learned most of what she knows through books (non-fiction mostly, although she enjoyed the Indian tales her mother used to read her), she has experienced not only pain, but other kinds of loses, and there are secrets and mysteries surrounding her, but despite all that, she is all practical and logical when we meet her. Her lack of exposure to the real world makes her a fascinating narrator, one who looks at everything with the eyes of a new-born or an alien suddenly landed in our society, who might have theoretical knowledge but knows nothing of how things truly work, while her personality, determined and stubborn, and her enquiring nature make her perfect to probe into the mystery at the heart of Shadowbrook.

Readers might not find Clara particularly warm and engaging to begin with (despite the sympathy they might feel for her suffering, something she would hate), as she dispenses with the niceties of the period, is headstrong and can be seen as rude and unsympathetic. At some point, I wondered if there might have been more to her peculiar personality than the way she was brought up (she can be obsessive with the things she likes, as proven by her continuous visits to Kew Gardens once she discovers them, and her lack of understanding of social mores and her difficulty in reading people’s motivations and feelings seemed extreme), but she quickly adapts to the new environment, she thrives on change and challenges, she shows a great, if somewhat twisted, sense of humour at times, and she evolves and grows into her own self during the novel, so please, readers, stick with the book even if you don’t connect with her straightaway or find her weird and annoying at times.  It will be worth your while.

Her point of view might be peculiar, but Clara is a great observer of people and of the natural world. She loves her work and she is careful and meticulous, feeling an affinity for the exotic plants of the glass house, that, like her until recently, also have to live enclosed in an artificial environment for their own safety. That is partly what enhances their beauty and their rarity in our eyes. By contrast, Clara knows that she is seen as weird, lacking, less-able, and hates it. She is a deep thinker and reflects upon what she sees, other people’s behaviours, she imagines what others might be talking about, and dreams of her dead mother and soon also of the mystery behind the strange happenings at the house.

The novel has been described as gothic, and that is a very apt description, even though it is not always dark and claustrophobic. There are plenty of scenes that take place in the garden, in the fields, and in the open air, but we do have the required strange happenings, creaks and noises, scratches on doors, objects and flowers behaving in unpredictable fashion, previous owners of the house with a troublesome and tragic past, a mysterious current owner who hides something, violence, murder, and plenty of rumours. We have a priest who is conflicted by something, a loyal gardener who knows more than he says, a neighbouring farmer who has plenty of skeletons in his closet, and a housekeeper who can’t sleep and is terrified. But there is much more to the novel than the usual tropes we have come to expect and love in the genre. There is social commentary; there are issues of diversity and physical disability, discussions about religious belief and spirituality, and also about mental health, women’s rights, and the destructive nature of rumours and gossip, and some others that I won’t go into to avoid spoilers.

I don’t want to give anything away, and although the story moves at a steady and contemplative pace, this in no way makes it less gripping. If anything, the beauty of the language and the slow build up work in its favour, giving us a chance to get fully immersed in the mood and the atmosphere of the place.

I marked a lot of passages, and I don’t think any of them make it full justice, but I’ve decided to share some, nonetheless:

She’d also said that there was no human perfection; that if the flaw could not be seen physically, then the person carried it inside them, which made it far worse, and I’d believed this part, at least.

For my mother had never spoken well of the Church. Patrick had said nothing at all of it. And my own understanding had been that imperfect bodies were forms of godly punishment; that imperfect meant I was worth less somehow. I’d disliked this notion intensely. Also, I was not a spare rib.

I could not taste fruit from studying a sketch of it, cut in half. What use was only reading of acts and not doing them? Knowing the route of the Ganges was not the same as standing in it.

 

The ending… We find the solution to the mystery, (which I enjoyed, and at the time I wondered why the book did not finish at that point) but the novel does not end there, and we get to hear what happened in the aftermath of the story. And yes, although at first, I wasn’t sure that part was necessary, by the end of the book proper I was crying and felt as if I was leaving a close friend in Clara, one that I was convinced would go on to lead a happy life.

Another fantastic novel by Susan Fletcher, one I recommend to fans of gothic novels, of Daphne du  Maurier’s Rebecca and her other novels, of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, and of inspiringly gorgeous writing. I do not recommend it to readers who prefer an action-laden plot with little space for thought or reflexion, although why not check a sample of the book and see for yourselves? I must catch up on the rest of the author’s novels and I hope there will be many more to come.

Thanks to NetGalley, to Virago, and to the author for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, please give it a like, share, comment, clik, review, and remember to keep smiling and reading!

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Book reviews

#Bookreview Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher. A beautiful, contemplative and touching novel that brings Provence and Van Gogh’s paintings to life.

Hi all:

I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading recently, and I was privileged to read this book before even it was officially out for sale. But now that is available, I felt I should tell you about it. I’m using my Friday spot as it is indeed a new book, and I didn’t know the author from before.

Here it is:

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher
Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew by Susan Fletcher

Provence, May 1889. The hospital of Saint-Paul-de Mausole is home to the mentally ill. An old monastery, it sits at the foot of Les Alpilles mountains amongst wheat fields, herbs and olive groves. For years, the fragile have come here and lived quietly, found rest behind the shutters and high, sun-baked walls.

Tales of the new arrival – his savagery, his paintings, his copper-red hair – are quick to find the warden’s wife. From her small white cottage, Jeanne Trabuc watches him – how he sets his easel amongst the trees, the irises and the fields of wheat, and paints in the heat of the day.

Jeanne knows the rules; she knows not to approach the patients at Saint-Paul. But this man – paint-smelling, dirty, troubled and intense – is, she thinks, worth talking to. So ignoring her husband’s wishes, the dangers and despite the word mad, Jeanne climbs over the hospital wall. She will find that the painter will change all their lives.

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Knew is a beautiful novel about the repercussions of longing, of loneliness and of passion for life. But it’s also about love – and how it alters over time.

Links:

Kindle version: http://amzn.to/1TLjIfI

Paperback http://amzn.to/1TLjjKg

Hardcover: http://amzn.to/1TG0VBi

Let Me Tell You About a Man I Knew2

Here, my review:

A beautiful, contemplative and touching novel that brings Provence and Van Gogh’s paintings to life.

Thanks to Virago and to Net Galley for providing me with a free copy of this novel in exchange for an unbiased review.

There are historical (and artistic in this case) figures that set imaginations alight. When I read the description of the book I liked the premise. Rather than being a straight biography of Vincent Van Gogh this novel is built around one episode of Van Gogh’s life, his stay at Saint-Paul-de Mausole, an old-monastery converted into a home for the mentally ill. The story, a third person narrative, is not told from the point of view of the painter, but of Jeanne Trabuc, the wife of the warden, Major Charles Trabuc. She’s the mother of three boys and two girls, but her surviving sons (the girls died at birth) are now grown-ups and have left the family home. Her husband is busy most of the day trying to run the hospital that’s slowly decaying, and her life has become routine and tedious. There have been no new patients for years and she is intrigued by the painter since she first hears about him.

The novel isn’t full of action. Jeanne observes the world around her, and from her thoughts we know she’s always been curious and a woman whose life has spread outside of the boundaries of her everyday life thanks to her imagination. The arrival of the painter brings back memories of her childhood and her dreams of exploring and doing things that others might view as inappropriate or daring. She ignores her husband’s rules and the small town’s gossips and conventions in order to get to know this man. In the process, she learns not only about herself, but she also gains a new understanding of her husband and their marriage.

The Van Gogh we meet in this novel is a man consumed by his art, fond of his brother, seriously ill, but hopeful, at that point, that his illness will improve and he’ll be cured. He is eager to record not the important people and the pieces considered of historical or architectonic interest, but the landscape, the flowers, a moth, olive trees, and everyday people. He finds value and beauty in all things. He only offers Jeanne brief snippets of his life before. The odd mention of flat landscapes in Holland, streets in Arles, a woman he loved, and the incident that brought him there. He paints; he suffers several bouts of his illness and eventually leaves to be closer to his brother and his new-born nephew and under the care of a new doctor. He dies shortly after leaving the monastery of a self-inflicted wound.

The descriptions of the landscape, the seasons, the hospital, and the interactions between the characters are beautiful and poetical. You feel the heat, smell the lavender and the paint, caress the stones and the silk of the yellow dress, listen to the cicadas, and above all, understand this woman’s feelings and experience her emotions. Although I’ve never visited Saint-Paul-de Mausole, now a museum, I felt as if I had, and it is clear that the author is very familiar with the place and has lived and breathed the environment she describes.

I loved the lyrical writing, the feeling of being immersed both in the place and inside Jeanne’s brain and even her body. The characters are consistent, believable and complex human beings. My only doubt was how well Jeanne’s subjectivity, as described on the page, fits in with the background provided. She is a woman who left school at a young age and spent most of the time in the company of a servant with limited social graces and of her father. Her only other contact with the outside world was with the clients of her father’s shop and the people she might meet in her lone walks. She has little formal education (Van Gogh tells her off for leaving school at such a young age, as it was her own choice) although knows how to read and write. But the story, as mentioned before, is not written or told by her in the first person and the author is, in a manner similar to Van Gogh, highlighting that poetry, inspiration and beauty can grow and be found anywhere.

Fletcher acknowledges in a note that she did plenty of research on the subject and tried to be accurate with regards to Van Gogh’s illness and his work whilst at the monastery, but although Jeanne Trabuc and her husband existed (as do their portraits by Van Gogh), the rest of details about their lives are part of her creative (and indeed poetic) license.

Although this is not a book for lovers of action and plot, it is not a difficult or slow read. This is a beautiful, contemplative and touching novel, and a pleasure to read and savour.

Virago are organising some events with the author present, so you might want to check their website, just in case she’s coming somewhere near you.

Here is one of these events in Blackheath Library.

Thanks so much to Net Galley and to Virago (and to Susan Fletcher) for this wonderful book, thanks to all of you for reading, and if you’ve enjoyed it, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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