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BOOK REVIEW: The Girl in the Photograph

This is a real page turner and a wonderfully atmospheric novel, highlighting the dreadful lot of women who lived in a time when they had no rights over themselves or their children under law.
The Girl in the Photograph

Kate Riordan’s publicist has compared her debut novel The Girl in the Photograph to Daphne du Maurier’s classic Rebecca, which is one of my all-time favourite novels and I don’t think Kate has quite managed to execute its wonderfully nuanced tension – but she’s pretty jolly close. It’s a wonderful read told from the perspectives of two women who live in a creepy old manor house and whose lives are separated by decades.

The novel begins in London in the summer of 1933. Alice, a naïve young woman, has been sent away from London in disgrace after becoming pregnant to a married man.  One of her mother’s childhood friends is the housekeeper at Fiercombe Manor and agrees to take Alice in, accepting her reputation-saving story that she had a husband who was killed in a motor accident.

Alice has very little to do as she waits for her child to be born and, while she’s exploring the dusty rooms of the neglected manor, she uncovers clues about its previous inhabitant, legendary beauty Elizabeth Stanton. She discovers that Elizabeth was married to Edward, a jealous and proprietorial man who was desperate for a son and heir. He had no time for a fragile wife, and certainly not one who suffered from post-natal depression.

As Alice begins to piece together the story of Elizabeth’s tragic life, she begins to fear for the safety of herself and her baby. Why is she treated like a prisoner within the manor?  And why will nobody talk about Elizabeth and her children?

While Alice’s mother finalises arrangements for her baby to be given to an orphanage, Alice begins to realise that she will never be able to give up her child. But the future for an unmarried mother in 1933 is surely as hopeless as Elizabeth’s. This is a real page turner and a wonderfully atmospheric novel, highlighting the dreadful lot of women who lived in a time when they had no rights over themselves or their children under law. It’s no Rebecca, but it’s a fine novel in its own right.

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