Review – The Girl In The Photograph by Kate Riordan

By | January 9, 2015

When Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor during the long, languid summer of 1933, she finds a house steeped in mystery and brimming with secrets. Sadness permeates its empty rooms and the isolated valley seems crowded with ghosts, none more alluring than Elizabeth Stanton whose only traces remain in a few tantalisingly blurred photographs. Why will no one speak of her? What happened a generation ago to make her vanish?

As the sun beats down relentlessly, Alice becomes ever more determined to unearth the truth about the girl in the photograph – and stop her own life from becoming an eerie echo of Elizabeth’s . . .

I feel immensely privileged that I’m able to read a whole range of books in advance of publication. On this occasion, I received a copy of this book from Real Readers, but I’d already spotted it on netgalley and read the kindle version. I only request books that I know I’ll enjoy, and everything about this book called out to me. It was recommended to readers who enjoyed Kate Mosse and Kate Morton – perfect! – and there were comparisons made with Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, one of my all time favourites. It was described as “full of slow-burning tension” and “a sweeping saga of secrets and ghosts”. And the endorsement on the cover was by Rachel Hore, another of my favourite authors. Most definitely a book for me, I thought… 

It’s the hot summer of 1933 when Alice Eveleigh arrives at Fiercombe Manor in an isolated valley in Gloucesteshire.  She has been sent away from home, so avoiding a scandal, after becoming pregnant by a married man – although her hostess, the housekeeper Mrs Jelphs, is told she is a widow. While filling her days, she finds a diary in an abandoned summerhouse: the diary introduces her to Elizabeth Stanton, the lady of the manor at the turn of the century, and Alice becomes obsessed with finding out more about her.  The book then alternates between the stories of both women, and Elizabeth’s tragic story unfolds.

I usually love dual timeframe novels, but must say that this one didn’t entirely work for me. I think the main problem was Alice – I disliked her with a passion from the outset, and found myself skipping across her parts of the narrative to get back to the story that I really wanted to read. There also seemed to be rather too many coincidences and devices within her story, just to drive the story forward. And I thought the romantic thread suddenly introduced was particularly unnecessary, and rather out-of-place. 

Elizabeth’s story, however, was an entirely different matter – I found it totally absorbing. It’s a tragic story, very well told, that fills the reader with a sense of massive injustice – and it sometimes moved me to tears. The other element I thought the author handled exceptionally well was the setting. Fiercombe is vividly described, both the house and the surrounding countryside – there’s an atmosphere of eeriness around it all that’s really well done, and the writing here is excellent. Additionally, the heat of summer radiates from the book’s pages, adding to the oppressiveness and overall feeling of impending disaster that runs through the narrative. 
But I’m afraid the book just didn’t quite work for me, primarily because of Alice’s story – it just couldn’t hold my interest, and I found it wasn’t a book I eagerly looked forward to picking up. In fairness though, it is the author’s first novel and I look forward to her next to see how her style develops: there are many elements to this book that make you want to read more. 
The Girl In The Photograph by Kate Riordan is due for publication by Penguin on 15 January. My thanks to Real Readers, netgalley and the publishers for my review copies.

Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist from England. Her first job was as an editorial assistant at the Guardian newspaper, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of London bible, Time Out magazine.

After becoming a freelancer, she left London behind and moved to the beautiful Cotswolds in order to write her first novel, ‘Birdcage Walk’. Her second novel, a haunting dual narrative story set in the 1930s and 1890s will be published by Penguin in January 2015 as ‘The Girl in the Photograph’. In February, HarperCollins will publish the same book as ‘Fiercombe Manor’ in the US and Canada. She is now at work on her third novel, another dual narrative story full of intrigue and secrets, but this time set in the 1870s and 1920s, and about the lives of two very different governesses.