It was a real delight to welcome author Virginia Moffatt as my guest back in December, with the loveliest piece on the fictional landscape for her debut novel – you can catch up with that post here. Echo Hall – published on 30th November by Unbound Digital, available in paperback and for kindle – captured my imagination from the moment I read the description, and it’s a pleasure to be sharing my review today.
In the early nineties, newlywed Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall to find an unhappy house full of mysteries that its occupants won’t discuss. When her husband, Adam, is called up to the Gulf War, her shaky marriage is tested to the core.
During World War 2 Elsie Flint is living at Echo Hall with her unsympathetic inlaws. While her husband, Jack is away with the RAF, his cousin Daniel is her only support. But Daniel is hiding a secret that will threaten their friendship forever.
At the end of the Edwardian era, Rachel and Leah Walters meet Jacob Flint, an encounter leading to conflict that will haunt the family throughout World War 1 and beyond.
As Ruth discovers the secrets of Echo Hall, will she be able to bring peace to the Flint family, and in doing so, discover what she really wants and needs?
The structure of this novel, with its three entwined stories, is a very ambitious one for a first-time novelist – but I have to say that I thought it worked exceptionally well. The stories are anchored both by the convoluted history of the Flint family and the vividly captured backdrop of Echo Hall and its surrounding countryside, and the whole was an absolutely fascinating read.
I will admit that I wasn’t completely drawn in by the early nineties story of Ruth (and Adam) at first – I did struggle a little with the cast of characters, and I actually didn’t like her very much (not essential, I know…) – but once I’d fully engaged with her story it became clear that she was to be the catalyst and focus for uncovering the story of the past. And there were characters in those stories that absolutely fascinated me, and who I very readily took to my heart. Rachel’s voice is strong and clear, and I really liked the fact that the author chose to tell her story through a series of letters – and it’s really quite a story, of family turmoil and betrayal, of cruelty and coldness and selfishness, of love in conflict with duty, and of hardship brought about by choices made. I loved Elsie too – her story is simply heartbreaking, her warmth and vitality drained by the hardness and solidity of the Flint family, her love for Jack always shining so brightly, her relationship with schoolteacher Daniel beautifully described.
The construction of this book is superb – the threads are many, but quite perfectly handled, and I would have enjoyed the luxury of reading it for a second time to fully appreciate the intricacies of the storytelling and the way every detail was sewn together. I really liked the gothic feel of the whole – enhanced by occasional very light touches of the supernatural. The echoes throughout the book – the permanence of events like the perseid shower, the etched love messages at Arthur’s Stone and its importance to the stories of successive generations – were beautifully done, as were the descriptions of nature and the passage of time and the seasons. The historical settings too were excellent – the dialogue authentic for its time, the touches of domestic and background detail obviously meticulously researched and perfectly reproduced, the atmosphere of each era wonderfully captured and recreated.
I liked too the book’s focus on the Quakers, and the theme of pacifism running throughout – an unusual choice, and the issues around it so well and sensitively handled. There’s also a real depth of insight into the lives of women and the limited choices they were able to make – and there’s an appropriate thread and storyline on women’s suffrage which I found quite fascinating.
I really enjoyed this book – perhaps a little more challenging in its themes than I was expecting, but most definitely one to disappear into on a winter’s afternoon, a beautifully tangled and sweeping story with real emotional depth.
About the author
Virginia Moffatt was born in London, one of eight children, several of whom are writers. Her eldest brother writes about theology and politics, one sister is a poet, a second a translator and her twin sister is a successful author.
Virginia has always been a writer but began to take it seriously only in 2004, when she first had the idea for Echo Hall. In 2009, she set up her blog, A Room of My Own, where she publishes flash fiction, short essays and reflections about writing and reading.
Virginia also writes on political and faith issues. She has recently edited a collection of essays, Reclaiming the Common Good: How Christians can help rebuild a broken world, published by Darton, Longman and Todd in 2017. She has also written a Lent course, Nothing More and Nothing Less, based around the film I, Daniel Blake, also published by Darton, Longman and Todd.
After working in social care for 30 years, Virginia left local government to work for the Christian think–tank Ekklesia in 2014. She currently works for a multi-academy trust as a procurement and contracts manager.
Virginia is married to Chris Cole, director of Drone Wars UK. They have three children and they live in Oxford.