Writer: Jane Healey
Publishing House: Mantles
Date of Publication: March 10th 2020
Rating: 5 stars
”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 on its own accord and shattered on the floor; the billowing of a curtain in a stray gust of wind; a light bulb that flickered like a message from the beyond. Empty rooms hold the possibility of people lurking inside them – truants, intruders, spirits.”
When we think of the ones that must be protected during a war, our mind always turns to human beings and understandably so. But what about the treasures kept within the walls of our museums, the evidence of the human’s evolution, the proof that we aren’t only bringers of destruction but also able to create wonders? Hetty’s duty is exactly that. She needs to find a shelter for the collection of mammals belonging to the Natural History Museum, as the Second World War is swiftly approaching Britain. She cannot know that Lockwood Manor hides sins of the past, terrible anger, injustice and corruption. Between a devil woman dressed in white, disappearances and a very real Satan, Hetty and Lucy need to find a way of those who try to dictate their lives.
Welcome to one of the finest novels of the decade…
”The house seemed to encourage wandering, hunting – the long corridor of its first floor, with the wall sconces leading you forward, the tall windows, the neat condition of each room that a dozen servants tended to; the hidden service stairs waiting to be found; the narrow warren of the servants’ floor; and above all the vacuum of life, the absence of people in the rooms that had been so lovingly prepared for them.”
There is a long, long British tradition of haunting stories set in foreboding manors. Think of Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, Rebecca. Stories where the House walks side-by-side with the characters, ruling their fate. In Jane Healey’s outstanding novel, this concept comes to life to perfection. Lockwood -the name evident of its mystery and darkness- isn’t just a setting. It is the driving force behind all actions. Its closed doors and dark curtains, its silent corridors reflect the secrets and the oppression that permeate its walls. The spectres that may or may not haunt the Manor are a mirror of the choices and their repercussions once we allow others to take over our lives. I loved the way Healey links the games of our childhood to the haunting element. How most of them are based on a risky, often violent, premise. From hiding to chasing, to being blindfolded or unwittingly struck by a companion. What is this primal tendency? What does it reflect, I wonder?
But do not think this is just a story about a mysterious manor. No. In Hetty and Lucy, Jane Healey has created two excellent characters. Both at a crossroads, both struck by the lack of a mother in one way or another, both trying to overcome the norms of being ”proper ladies”, determined to swim against the current on so many levels. In the thoughts of the two young women and in their relationship, we can see the very notion of resilience, determination, and persistence, regardless of the cost. I would be frightfully negligent if I didn’t mention the crucial and very mysterious role played by Lucy’s mother, a character that deserves her own novel…
Extremely atmospheric, exquisitely written prose, excellent dialogue, brilliantly depicted themes, a wonderful continuation of the Gothic Manor sub-genre. A beautiful, beautiful novel!
”If there was a spirit in this house, it was me; if there was a haunting, it was my own.”