It has been twenty-seven years since Ailsa Calder lived in the Manse. Located in rural Scotland, the Manse has a varied and dark history. Now, with the recent death of her mother, she has inherited half of this personality-filled house. Her father, who has been missing these last twenty-seven years, owns the other half.
While getting the legal paperwork finalized, Ailsa and her actress half-sister live in the Manse and try to form some kind of meaningful relationship after being semi-estranged for many years. Meanwhile, Ailsa’s career as a television field producer, is on hiatus, as is her relationship with her older live-in partner, a popular television journalist.
When Ailsa and her half-sister, Carrie, move in to the Manse, Carrie is oblivious to the atmosphere pervading the old dwelling. Ailsa, on the other hand, is very in tune with its forbidding atmosphere. She often feels as though she is being watched…
“I feel the weight of time here, of the years that have passed. This landscape has been old for a very long time.”
The locals all have a deep curiosity about the Manse. Whether it is because of the tragic ancient history of the place, or whether it is a salacious interest because of Ailsa’s missing father, is anyone’s guess.
The sisters befriend some the local people, and Ailsa in particular befriends a young neighbour boy. Callum is a darling, precocious, seven-year old boy who seems to have an inherent knowledge about the house. He explains, in his charming Scottish brogue, that animals will not venture onto the grounds of the place. His statements seem to be proven true when Ailsa continually sees a grey cat on the garden wall. The cat NEVER jumps into the yard.
Then various incidents firm up Ailsa’s belief that she is unwelcome here. Someone seems to be trying to frighten her into leaving. A dead raven on the doorstep, a dead fox in the yard. Bones under the bed… Are these distressing incidents just a portent of what could come?I read and enjoyed Lexie Elliott’s debut novel, “The French Girl“, and was curious about how she would follow it up with her second novel. She has proven to me that she writes in such a way that I will follow her work with alacrity.
I thoroughly enjoyed Ailsa’s story, and though at first I didn’t care for her, I eventually warmed up to her. This was greatly enhanced when she met her little neighbour, Callum. I could vividly picture the old manor house, and could almost hear it’s slamming doors, and feel its chilly rooms. Don’t be mislead though, this is NOT a ghost story.
The mystery surrounding Ailsa’s father’s disappearance was convoluted, yet made perfect sense once it was explained.
At the end of every chapter, there was a brief segment telling of the various scenarios Ailsa invented to explain her father’s disappearance from her life. I think they were entirely unnecessary to the story. It would have been more efficient to just state that Ailsa invented myriad possible narratives why her father vanished from her life when she was a young child. In my opinion, the different versions described added nothing to the story, and wouldn’t have left a gap if left out entirely.
I enjoyed the elements of the story that had to do with time. I’ve always had a deep-seated interest in the illusive, transitory nature of time and how subjective it seems. How it seems to at times move rapidly, and other times to slow down. This book introduced me to the condition known as ‘Dyschronometria‘.
I would recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys decades old mysteries and atmospheric old houses. A good read, that held my interest throughout. Now, I’m looking forward to this author’s next offering…
This review was written voluntarily and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Berkley/Penguin Publishing Group via Edelweiss.
Lexie Elliott has been writing for as long as she can remember, but she began to focus on it more seriously after she lost her banking job in 2009 due to the Global Financial Crisis. After some success in short story competitions, she began planning a novel. With two kids and a (new) job, it took some time for that novel to move from her head to the page, but the result was The French Girl.
When she’s not writing, Lexie can be found running, swimming or cycling whilst thinking about writing. In 2007 she swam the English Channel solo. She won’t be doing that again. In 2015 she ran 100km, raising money for Alzheimer Scotland. She won’t be doing that again either. But the odd triathlon or marathon isn’t out of the question.