Publication Date: 6th August 2020
I was waiting with baited breath for Elizabeth Brooks second novel after loving her debut The Call Of The Curlew so much. (Review here), and which I also binge read one hot afternoon. I would have read The Whispering House in one sitting too if I hadn’t have started drinking red wine (I can’t read once I’ve started drinking, anyone else find that?).
So what’s it all about?
The story opens with Freya Lyell and her father attending a wedding in the grounds at Byrne Hall, an impressive home overlooking the sea. However, it is also not far from where her sister, Stella took her own life 5 years before.
When Freya drinks a little too much in the wedding marquee, she stumbles outside for some air and finds herself drawn to the main house despite ‘no entry’ notices from the family living inside.
Freya decides she’ll ignore the notices and take a look inside. She is then confronted by a framed painting on the wall of a woman who looks disturbingly like her dead sister, Stella. Freya passes out in her drunken stupor and when she wakes up the picture has been removed from the wall…..
Once Freya and her father return home, she cannot stop thinking about the painting and decides to take a break from work and looking after her father to go and investigate what connection, if any, her sister had to Byrne Hall.
Once there she meets Cory Byrne, a struggling artist and his ailing mother Diana. When asked about the portrait of her sister, Cory says she was just a woman he once painted and that he didn’t know much about her and Freya has no option but to take his word for this.
The room was getting darker by the second. It was different from the darkness that comes with night: harsher, somehow, and metallic. There was no birdsong, as there is at twilight, and the seething sound of the rain seemed to deepen, rather than disrupt, the electric silence.
‘I didn’t know her’ said Cory, ‘but I did meet her once. She sat for a quick sketch, which I may have made into a painting….. in fact I’m almost sure I did‘.
‘She was very beautiful’. I meant it as a bald statement of fact, but Cory said, ‘was she?’ and I was struck by that. Everyone who met Stella in the flesh came away – one way or another – overwhelmed. Nobody in my experience was non-committal with regard to my sister.
Freya and Cory become very close and embark on a relationship together with Freya moving into Byrne Hall with him and Diana with the plan being for her to work on her writing and for Cory to work on his painting.
However, the previously loving, caring and encouraging Cory starts to slowly but surely act differently. He makes Freya the subject of his paintings and has her sit for hours whilst he sketches her. He gets an idea in his head that he will put on an exhibition in Byrne Hall and invite anyone who’s anyone in the art world using his mother’s connections.
Freya becomes more and more uncomfortable with the way Cory is acting, he’s controlling and overbearing and lives under the strange shadow of his mother Diana who is fast fading away.
Can Freya figure out what secrets are held within the walls of Byrne Hall and at what cost?….
I loved this book. Elizabeth Brooks has a great talent for weaving stories that you are gripped by from the get-go. There’s nothing I love more than a story surrounding an old house and the myriad secrets held inside. There’s a almost gothic air to this take which you all know I’m hugely drawn to.
What I also loved was the way that Byrne Hall is almost a character in itself. Beautiful on the outside but falling into disrepair on the inside.
Elizabeth Brooks writes wholly believable characters who you quickly become invested in. Characters who you are itching to know the back story of and what they’re hiding behind an everyday facade. We get glimpses of Stella’s troubled past through flashbacks from Freya’s perspective. Memories of her troubled sister who thought nothing of up and disappearing, leaving Freya and her father to trawl the streets looking for her again.
We gain an understanding of Freya’s relationship with her father and their shared grief over the loss of Stella. We also learn about Cory’s childhood with Diana and his father and events that took place at Byrne Hall.
This book really picks up a pace in the last third or so and became quite claustrophobic reading…..in a really great way! We piece together Stella’s history with Byrne Hall and it’s inhabitants, using the various little jigsaw pieces Freya discovers and an interspersed chapter told via Stella’s perspective.
This is a really atmospheric and compelling read and I would heartily recommend it. It would be a great Autumn read.
Thank you as always to the publisher for having me along on the blog tour. I wish Elizabeth Brooks every success with this one!
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx