I loved this novel, from its opening lines detailing the impact our narrator’s fragile bones have on her early years, through to its moving conclusion. Even if it wasn’t set in the area near my home, I would have been able to visualise this pre-war world so clearly because of Fletcher’s beautiful prose,
‘A small iron sign in the hedgerow announced it: Barcombe-on-the-Hill. At its centre there was a village green – a rounded patch of grass with a wooden bench and a noticeboard and an oak tree of such age and girth that its lowest, largest branches were either propped up with wood or had found the ground of their own accord and rested there.’
As a young girl at the end of the Nineteenth Century, Clara is diagnosed with Osteogenesis imperfecta, or brittle bones. The slightest bump or sneeze is enough to result in a break or fracture, and so Clara is closeted away by her loving mother and step-father. She reads voraciously and waits for the day when she will be permitted to go outside. Later, as a young woman, she becomes fascinated by the gardens at Kew, studying the plants and their needs. This sets off a sequence of events which lead her to an old house in Gloucestershire, Shadowbrook, and the narrative takes a new turn, as dark secrets lead Clara to question everything she thought she knew.
The narrative makes fascinating turns and the reader is carried along by the quality of the writing. When a visitor arrives in order to investigate events at Shadowbrook, Clara tells us,
‘He was, at first, a travelling trunk. I stepped out of my room to find it there by the wall, tucked tightly against it. Its metalled parts had rusted; a stain bloomed on its side, as if ink had soaked into the leather itself.’
Clara’s observation of detail, borne out of her childhood confinement, means that she is an attentive narrator. She believes at first that everything can studied, proven, but events at the mysterious Shadowbrook will challenge the idea that life, and people, can be easily read. Fletcher also lends her a poetic turn in her phrasing – the young Clara startles her mother with a question about their past, and her mother ‘looked up from her poetry, penny-eyed.’ Later, when Clara has finally met the mysterious owner of Shadowbrook and questions him in her wonderfully direct way, she senses that ‘the conversation had tucked itself up for the evening.’
Fragility runs through this novel – Clara’s bones, the glasshouse she is hired to establish in Gloucestershire, people’s grasp on the lives they wish to lead – and Fletcher’s prose captures this brilliantly. Notably, this fragility is echoed on a larger scale – the main events take place just as Britain goes to war in 1914, and all certainties are crumbling. This is such a good novel. Highly recommended indeed!
My thanks to Kimberley Nyamhondera at Little, Brown for my review copy. Join the rest of the Blog Tour here: