*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Mantle – Pan Macmillan and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*
Some secrets are unspoken. Others are unspeakable . . .
Thirty-year-old Hetty Cartwright is tasked with the evacuation and safekeeping of the natural history museum’s collection of mammals. Once she and her exhibits arrive at Lockwood Manor, however, where they are to stay for the duration of the war, Hetty soon realizes that she’s taken on more than she’d bargained for.
Protecting her charges from the irascible Lord Lockwood and resentful servants is work enough, but when some of the animals go missing, and worse, Hetty begins to suspect someone – or something – is stalking her through the darkened corridors of the house.
As the disasters mount, Hetty finds herself falling under the spell of Lucy, Lord Lockwood’s beautiful but clearly haunted daughter. But why is Lucy so traumatized? Does she know something she’s not telling? And is there any truth to local rumours of ghosts and curses?
Part love story, part mystery, The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healey is a gripping and atmospheric tale of family madness, long-buried secrets and hidden desires.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor is a slow, hauntingly Gothic tale of oppressed women and repressed feelings.
Hetty is tasked with the responsibility of guarding the museum’s collection of stuffed animals that have been evacuated to Lockwood Manor to avoid the Blitz. This responsibility weighs very heavily upon her from the first, as her career rests on the outcome of her work, and she is increasingly distressed and deranged as the animals are moved, damaged and stolen, with her the only person to take these incidents the least bit seriously.
Our other main narrative character, Lucy, has grown up in the darkly oppressive Lockwood Manor, with a domineering father and increasingly disturbed mother. Nightmares plague Lucy’s sleeping hours and nervous episodes restrict her days, so Hetty’s arrival proves a welcome distraction from her unspecific fears. At first, anyway…
The first thing that struck me on reading this novel was just how many other books I was reminded of: Jane Eyre, Fingersmith, Rebecca, Wide Sargasso Sea and The Yellow Wallpaper being the ones that came up more than once. That’s not to say that this book replicates any of those earlier classics, just that their influence is tangible on the characters, atmosphere and plot: red rooms, suppressed sapphism, dour housekeepers, highly-strung young wives and repressed emotions creeping out in unexpected, unpleasant ways.
Jane Healey’s writing is beautiful: effortlessly drawing the reader under the heavily oppressive spell of Lockwood Manor and into the edgy tension of its inhabitants. The story unfolds slowly and inexorably towards the inevitable climax; emotions can only simmer for so long before something boils over!
One of the main recurring themes here is mental illness and how it was firmly tied to ideas about women’s sexual, emotional and intellectual needs. If a woman was angry, or depressed, or frightened, or lustful – any strong emotion really – why, then she must be mad! Crazy! Hysterical! Healey draws clear parallels here with ideas of The Madwoman in the Attic and shows the harm that such blasé dismissals could easily – and still do – cause. As both Hetty and Lucy fight against accusations of insanity, we see they frequently fear for, and doubt, their own reason and senses. Thus the war in this book is not really the Blitz without, but the hovering darkness within.
Compelling and immersive; fans of slow-burn Gothic suspense novels will enjoy this atmospheric story and its respectful nods to classic literature of the genre.
Lockwood had too many empty rooms. They sat there, hushed and gaping, waiting for my mind to fill them with horrors – spectres and shadows and strange creeping creatures. And sometimes what was already there was frightening enough: empty chairs; the hulk of a hollow wardrobe; a painting that slid off the wall of its own accord and shattered on the floor; the billowing of a curtain in a stray gust of wind; a lightbulb that flickered like a message from the beyond. Empty rooms hold the possibility of people lurking inside them – truants, intruders, spirits. And when there is enough space for one’s mind to wander, one can imagine that loved ones are not dead, but only waiting in a room out of the way, a room you forgot you had, and the urge to search for them, to haunt the corridors and the rooms of your house until you find them, becomes overwhelming.
– Jane Healey, The Animals at Lockwood Manor
The Animals at Lockwood Manor is available at Amazon right now!