Title: The Vanishing
Writer: Sophia Tobin
Publishing House: Simon Schuster UK
Date of Publication: June 5th 2018 (first published January 12th 2017)
Rating: 4 stars
” Everything was still; no rain, only the touch of wind as I walked, with the occasional call of birds in the desolation. I looked at the reddish bracken; the tall grasses; the sugary purple of the heather the colour of fondants Hester loved to eat, the bees buzzing over it, drowsy in the gloom. The grasses were of different colours and forms, from red to a startling green. I wished I could name them; but every sound and plant was foreign to me and fascinating.”
Annaleigh finds work as a housekeeper in an estate somewhere in the wild, wuthering land of the Yorkshire Moors. The mansion is occupied by a handful of servants and two siblings, Marcus and Hester Twentyman, the owners of White Windows. This is 1814, everything is difficult. The financial status of the less privileged families, the mercurial landscape. But nothing is more dangerous than the human soul.
”My fears of rain had not been justified, for it had turned into one of those bright autumn afternoons that seem to pierce the soul with their particular beauty, a golden light on the land and the shadows sharp edged, and the soft light was kind to the house. Nothing could soften those stark outliners, but on a distant green hill the sun shone, and suddenly it did not seem as isolated as it had been.”
British Gothic Fiction is a universe on its own. Its characteristics are used to create outstanding stories. But that is rare. Most of the time, we have works where the scenery is perfect but the story begs for an adequate writer. In my opinion, Sophia Tobin is a very good writer. She chose to set her plot during the Regency era, something that doesn’t happen often, within the land of Yorkshire. This is already an advantage. Tobin transfers the moorlands right into the eyes and the mind of the reader. She uses the mysterious, dark mansion trope to ”house” her characters. But all these merely compose the backdrop of Annaleigh’s adventure. What is terrifying is the spot-on depiction of the monster that lurks within us all.
Nature and houses are no threat to us. Madness, obsessions and wickedness. These are the lethal dangers. Add poverty and desperation in a time where the choices of women were frightfully limited and you have a claustrophobic situation which cannot be escaped without consequences. I appreciated the fact that Tobin doesn’t underestimate our intelligence by serving everything in every step of the action. I was trying to find the answers, I kept guessing as to the motives of the characters, Annaleigh’s life in London, the potential helpers and their possible lack of honesty. It does get a bit repetitive and predictable but I liked its ambiguity. If we have all the answers served on a plate, we become automatons that merely turn pages. So, this was an interesting and overall satisfying reading experience.
Comparisons to classic works are futile and useful only to the editors creating the back covers of books. There can only be one Wuthering Heights, one Jane Eyre, one Jamaica’s Inn. This isn’t a Laura Purcell masterpiece, but it is a well-written story, with excellent atmosphere, an interesting plot and a very sympathetic heroine.
*This is NOT a Victorian novel. This is the Regency era. I am tired of everyone thinking that when a novel is set in a manor we find ourselves in the Victorian times. When one decides to write a review, the least one can do is check the basic facts. Google it, for God’s sake!*
”But I was without sense, and without feeling.”