Tall Chimneys is the story of Evelyn Talbot and her ancestral home. The Jacobean house itself, built in a hollow, is by turns a place of security and a burden to be upheld at all costs. We’re told early on that, ‘The house’s sunken situation was never a happy one.’ A character it its own right, the fortunes of Tall Chimneys and Evelyn are inextricably linked, a challenge for Evelyn and for those who come into her life.
Cresswell’s writing is precise and detailed – there isn’t an unnecessary adjective or overly-florid line. The novel has a slow start, important for setting the scene, but when the political tensions of the late Thirties begin to impose themselves on Evelyn’s sequestered life at Tall Chimneys, the pace picks up. Many of the 20th Century’s political and social moments are reflected in this novel, because of the social status the Talbots enjoy. It allows Cresswell to give us glimpses into the political machinations of the age, and I particularly liked a deft description of Mrs Simpson, ‘’I have no doubt that the cardigan was cashmere and the blouse and scarf both silk, but they seemed to provide no warmth.’ Like the future Duchess of Windsor, Evelyn is kept waiting in the margins for men to make their plans, and she recognises that both keenly feel the weight of public opprobrium.
For the most part, Evelyn is adrift from her own family, who are either dead, abroad, or disinterested in their much younger sibling. This throws Evelyn on the mercies of outsiders and those who work in the house. She seeks a family to replace that which she has never really known and this provides some of the most heart-warming moments. However, Evelyn’s sense of herself as an outsider as the century progresses is evident, making her a fascinating (and sometimes frustrating) character.
‘[Other women] were grasping opportunities, learning, making their mark. They were breaking out of constricted indolence or enforced servitude in order to rise while I only languished, living my little life in a backwater. How could I take tea in Bloomsbury, where the talk was all of modern art and literature? How could I even meet the eye of the waitress in the Lyons Coffee House?’
Cresswell does villainous characters well – I think I have met few characters who I have disliked more than Mr Ratton – but she steers clear of easy delineation of characters and their motivations, her narrator providing us with perspectives on her relationships which are realistically complex.
She says in her foreword that she debated including the Epilogue, set 100 years after Evelyn’s birth. I’m very glad she did – and the final sentence brought a lump to my throat. This is a rich and detailed tale of a life lived in the shadow of war and loss, and of a house which exerts a powerful pull on those who love it.
My thanks to Rachel @rararesources for providing a copy for review.
Blurb: Considered a troublesome burden, Evelyn Talbot is banished by her family to their remote country house. Tall Chimneys is hidden in a damp and gloomy hollow. It is outmoded and inconvenient but Evelyn is determined to save it from the fate of so many stately homes at the time – abandonment or demolition.
Occasional echoes of tumult in the wider world reach their sequestered backwater – the strident cries of political extremists, a furore of royal scandal, rumblings of the European war machine. But their isolated spot seems largely untouched. At times life is hard – little more than survival. At times it feels enchanted, almost outside of time itself. The woman and the house shore each other up – until love comes calling, threatening to pull them asunder.
Her desertion will spell its demise, but saving Tall Chimneys could mean sacrificing her hope for happiness, even sacrificing herself.
A century later, a distant relative crosses the globe to find the house of his ancestors. What he finds in the strange depression of the moor could change the course of his life forever. One woman, one house, one hundred years.
Publication Date: 12th December 2017
Allie Cresswell was born in Stockport, UK and began writing fiction as soon as she could hold a pencil.
She did a BA in English Literature at Birmingham University and an MA at Queen Mary College, London.
She has been a print-buyer, a pub landlady, a book-keeper, run a B & B and a group of boutique holiday cottages. Nowadays Allie writes full time having retired from teaching literature to lifelong learners.
She has two grown-up children, one granddaughter and two grandsons, is married to Tim and lives in Cumbria, NW England. Tall Chimneys is the sixth of her novels to be published.
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/alliescribbler/