In a hidden corner of the Welsh countryside, beneath the dark green hills and stretching deep underground, lies a secret.
So begins Abigale Hall, the extraordinary debut novel by Lauren Forry. Seventeen year-old Eliza and her beautiful but troubled twelve year-old sister Rebecca, lost their mother to the Blitz and their father to suicide. They now live with their Aunt Bess in London, but a series of mishaps causes a falling out among them and the sisters get shipped out to work for mysterious recluse Mr. Brownawell at the titular Hall. They never meet Mr. Brownawell themselves, but are greeted by his terror housekeeper, Mrs. Pollard, a true literary witch if there ever was one and, worse still, Rebecca seems to be falling under her spell. In the meanwhile, Eliza’s suitor, brave young Peter, goes off in search of the girls and soon encounters perils along the way.
It’s all the ingredients for a classic tale of Gothic style horror, yet Forry still manages to wring fresh blood (figuratively and literally) out of the genre. Both Eliza and Rebecca bring plenty of their own psychological baggage with them to Wales on top of the macabre discoveries that await them. There’s a rich tableau of supporting characters all with their own agendas and own stories. The wartime setting creates the specter of death at all times as a constant in the character’s lives. Rationing and other scarcities give an added feeling of desperation and deprivation as well. Indeed, the grisly discoveries to be unveiled have been enabled by the tacit silence and assent of an entire community. In the course of the novel, there come plot twists that are so genuinely shocking at one point it feels like being slapped across the face. The final denouement is extraordinary. But be forewarned: in such a dark world do not look for a happy ending.
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