“Byrne Hall had a listening air. It was never bored, or distracted, or unconscious.”
At the tender age of five years, Freya Lyell lost her mother to cancer. Then, when she was eighteen, she lost her only sister Stella to suicide. Freya and her father muddle along together, yet neither of them can really come to terms with Stella’s death.
Stella was found at the bottom of a cliff in Devon, near the town of Bligh. When a family wedding takes Freya and her father very near where Stella’s body was found, the manor has a strange pull for Freya and she decides to visit the scene weeks after the wedding as a way of seeking closure in her sister’s death. While there, she encounters a young man who lives in Byrne Hall and the two fall in love almost immediately.
The hall itself is like a stage set, pristine gardens surrounding an elegant frontage, used to entice wedding planners. At the back and inside, it is another story, decrepit and falling to ruin with cobwebs, damp, and debris. The contents have been plundered for sale and very little is left… Cory Bryne and his mother Diana live there alone and have sold off everything they could to make ends meet. Now their only source of income is the wedding venue business which is seasonal and undependable.
Now Diana is terminally ill, with only her artist son Cory to care for her.
“She – Diana – has become the whispering voice of the house. No, more than that, she has become its mind and soul.”
When she was young, before her marriage, Diana had been influential in the art world. Her late husband seems to leech all the vivacity from her. She feared him and sought to protect her son from his attentions.
Cory Bryne fancies himself an artist. He has delusions of grandeur when it comes to his talent. Cory is a man who has been the apple of his mother’s eye for his entire life. Now, he seems obsessed with Freya Lyall and though she laps up the attention at first, it soon becomes apparent – even to her – that his attentions are controlling, manipulative, and unnatural…
Cory decides to host an art showing of his works. He calls the event “Freya“, as all of his art works are portraits of the woman who has become his obsession – his muse.
Freya, who voluntarily left her job and her old life to live with Cory at Bryne Hall, slowly realizes that Cory believes that it should just be the two of them. That nothing else – and no one else – matters. He confiscates her cell phone, and tries to discourage her friendships. To make matters worse, Freya begins to suspect that her late sister Stella had connections to Byrne Hall.
I know the word ‘atmospheric‘ is bandied about often in book reviews. This time however the word could not be more appropriate. Picture a once grand ancestral home on a cliff overlooking the sea. Dilapidated and inhabited by only a terminally ill woman and her son – a son who is eccentric, peculiar, and controlling.
The narrative was told for the most part from Freya’s point of view, with occasional flashbacks to Stella’s viewpoint. Stella did not come across as a very likable person, though she was gregarious and lively, she could also be cruel.
It was an unsettling experience to read of Freya’s life at Byrne Hall. Although a modern day story, it had many gothic elements which put me in mind of the works of the Brontë sisters. The novel was disturbing and compelling in equal measure and is sure to be appreciated by many readers.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 Doubleday/Transworld Publishers via NetGalley.
Elizabeth Brooks grew up in Chester, England. She read Classics at Newnham College, Cambridge. On graduating in 2001 she moved to the Isle of Man where she lives with her husband and their two children.
As well as writing stories, Elizabeth is also an artist in her spare time.
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