Virginia Moffatt’s Echo Hall

echo hall cover bestEcho Hall’s opening chapter, ‘Remembrance’, sees a young woman enter a National Trust property as a tourist. But this country house is more to Phoebe than simply a pleasant day out –  it is where she was born, and she knows that there is far more to the history of her family than the tourist brochure, with its ‘dry tale of dust and stone, slate and finance’, reveals. From here, Moffatt’s tale moves back through the generations, unpacking secrets like a set of Russian dolls, each layer providing insights for, and echoes of, the previous sections. The novel is intricately plotted, allowing our sympathies to wax and wane as we discover more about the appropriately-named Flints and those who marry into the family.

Moffatt uses Ruth, a newlywed arriving at Echo Hall in 1990, to set up her narrative proper. From the outset, there are ghostly echoes of previous events and, determined to find the cause of the unhappiness that is linked to the closed-off East Wing, Ruth slowly convinces the curmudgeonly Jack to begin to look back on events forty years before. These events in turn have their roots in the actions of the previous generation, and the middle section focuses on Rachel, a young woman growing up alongside her more dour sister, Leah. As suggested by their names, the sisters are very different, but both remain inextricably linked to Echo Hall and its owner, Jacob Flint. In a letter, Rachel describes her first encounter with Echo Hall, ‘its grey walls and large windows offer no welcome to visitors, and its location is as cold and bleak as its owners.’ Rachel’s first feelings about the house are right, and Moffat’s country house joins the likes of Hundreds Hall and Manderley in providing a suitably brooding atmosphere for events to develop, leaving long shadows for decades to come.

Moffatt has given a good deal of thought to her characters’ lives and pre-occupations. The novel takes in the impact of faith – particularly significant during the sections dealing with the two World Wars – and politics on the decisions we make, and on the way we treat others. Her characters are complex and fully-realised, and the structure of the novel allows us to see them all from different perspectives by the end. It’s a mark of a good read when characters stay with you once the final page is turned – I read Echo Hall late into the night, desperate to know how it would finish, and for me, it was Rachel, the character at the centre of the story, I kept thinking about the following day. Moffatt’s style is strong and clear, and her debut novel is very memorable indeed.

2 thoughts on “Virginia Moffatt’s Echo Hall

  1. Pingback: Blogging – the first eight months, or ‘What I’ve learned So Far…’ | Books and Wine Gums

  2. Pingback: The Wave – Virginia Moffatt | Books and Wine Gums

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