It’s a real pleasure today to share my review of Long Shadows by Thorne Moore, published for kindle by Endeavour Media in March 2018, and also available in paperback. Thorne is co-organiser of the Narberth Book Fair, and I’m a great admirer of her writing: you’ll find reviews of The Unravelling and Shadows here on Being Anne, and you’ll find her other books on my kindle, just waiting for a moment when I can read and enjoy them. I notice that the author describes her writing as historical and psychological crime, and the two books I’ve previously read were certainly on that spectrum. But when I picked up Long Shadows – and my thanks to Thorne for my reading e-copy – I’ll admit to a fleeting concern that I could just be entering uncharted territory…
Llys y Garn is a rambling Victorian-Gothic mansion with vestiges of older glories.
It lies in the isolated parish of Rhyd y Groes in North Pembrokeshire. It is the house of the parish, even in its decline, deeply conscious of its importance, its pedigree and its permanence. It stubbornly remains though the lives of former inhabitants have long since passed away. Only the rooks are left to bear witness to the often desperate march of history.
Thorne Moore’s Long Shadows: Tales of Llys y Garn comprises a trio of historical novellas that let us into secrets known only to these melancholy birds.
The Good Servant is the story of Nelly Skeel, loveless housekeeper at Llys y Garn at the end of the 19th century, whose only focus of affection is her master’s despised nephew. But for Cyril Lawson she will do anything, whatever the cost.
The Witch tells of Elizabeth Powell, born as Charles II is restored to the English throne, in a world of changing political allegiances, where religious bigotry and superstition linger on. Her love is not for her family, her duty, her God or her future husband, but for the house where she was born. For that she would sell her soul.
The Dragon Slayer tells of Angharad ferch Owain in the early decades of the 14th century. Angharad is an expendable asset in her father’s machinations to recover old rights and narrow claims, but she dreams of bigger things and a world without the roaring of men. A world that might spare her from the seemingly inevitable fate of all women.
In these three tales the rooks of Llys y Garn have watched centuries of human tribulation – but just how much has really changed? If you enjoyed the kaleidoscopic sweep of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas you will appreciate Long Shadows.
And it wasn’t only the mention of Cloud Atlas (not my kind of book at all, and one I’ve never managed to finish) that filled me with dread – while I’m fairly comfortable in the late 19th century, I’m considerably less so with the 17th and 14th. But I definitely was attracted by the way the stories were linked by location – and I found in many other ways too, must notably the whole area of strong women endeavouring to make their way in a world dominated by men.
The first of the stories – The Good Servant – might have been my favourite (but then again…!), as I felt for Nelly, progressing from housemaid to housekeeper, her position and future so very precarious, and so lonely and desperate for affection that she nurtures and protects a monster. This story is gothic writing at its very best – and, I must say, a quite enthralling story, read with mounting horror. And my “then again” is because of the power of the second story, The Witch – Elizabeth really would do anything to keep her tenure at Llys y Garn, and I was fascinated by the intimations of witchcraft and the darkness of the story, the way classes were defined by land and money, the notion that daughters were a commodity to be traded by their neglectful parents. And then there’s the last story, The Dragon Slayer, long before Llys y Garn became a mansion, but at a time when roaring men fiercely fought for and defended their property. There’s a callous disregard in this story for the preciousness of life, particularly if that life is female, and I found it both deeply disturbing and quite enthralling – and the story’s ending is an absolute masterstroke.
I’m not sure how the author does it, but each story feels entirely of its time – the writing subtly different in each, but difficult to explain how that distinction is achieved. The presence of the ravens, timeless and omniscient, is an inspired link – the conversational, contextual links well judged, as well as providing an opportunity to take a much-needed natural break. I know this book is a companion piece to Shadows, but it’s sadly too long since I read that one to detect the individual links – but it’s hardly surprising that such events would linger in the house’s fabric for Kate to experience through her unfortunate gift.
Did I enjoy Long Shadows? “Enjoy” is perhaps the wrong word – but I remain an immense fan of Thorne Moore’s writing, whatever its complexion. Maybe another psychological thriller next time, Thorne – but this book really was an unforgettable experience.
About the author (from the Narberth Book Fair website)
Thorne grew up in Luton, where her father was a Labour councillor and her mother once got the sack for calling her boss a male chauvenist pig, so she developed strong views about the way the world works. Her headmaster advised her to study law, but that implied a career in law, and the only career she wanted was as a writer, so she studied history instead, at Aberystwyth, and nine years later, after a spell working in a library, she returned to Wales, to beautiful and inspiring Pembrokeshire, to run a restaurant with her sister, Liz.
She did finally get her law degree, through the Open University, but these days, she writes, as she had always intended, and when she’s not writing,she makes miniature furniture, through her craft business, Pear Tree Miniatures, and occasionally she teaches family history.
History, personal and social, rather than political treaties and battles, remain a major interest, spurred along by her present home, a Victorian farmhouse that stands on the site of a Mediaeval manor. When she write about crime, as a traumatic turn of events that shakes people’s lives, she is primarily concerned with its causes and far-reaching consequences of actions, even through generations, rather than the thrill of the actions themselves, or the intricacies of forensic detection.
She has had three novels published by Honno, A Time For Silence, Motherlove and The Unravelling, and has also brought out a book of short stories, Moments of Consequence. A fourth novel, Shadows, was published in July 2017 by Endeavour and was followed by its companion, Long Shadows, in April 2018.