I’m delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of The Girl at the Window by Rowan Coleman: already out in e-book, the paperback was published on 8th August by Ebury Press. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for the invitation, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy, provided via netgalley.
Rowan Coleman is one of my very favourite authors, and I once thought that nothing she could ever write would be better than The Memory Book (you’ll find my review here): and then I read The Summer of Impossible Things (here’s my review), and I realised that I needed to readjust my expectations, because she was just going to get better with every book. So, understandably, I was so looking forward to reading The Girl at the Window – and now I have, I’m wondering if I can actually find the superlatives I need…
The Girl at the Window is a beautiful and captivating novel set at Ponden Hall, a centuries-old house on the Yorkshire moors and famously used as a setting for Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. Known as the place where Cathy’s ghost taps on the window, Emily Bronte used to visit often with her sisters and use the extensive library there. It’s a magical place full of stories.
In The Girl at the Window, Ponden Hall is where Trudy Heaton grew up, but also where she ran away from…
Now, after the devastating loss of her husband, Trudy returns home with her young son, Will, who refuses to believe his father is dead. While Trudy tries to do her best for her son, she must also attempt to build bridges with her eccentric mother. And then there is the Hall itself: fallen into disrepair but generations of lives and loves still echo in its shadows, sometimes even reaching out to the present…
The Girl at the Window is hauntingly beautiful, and centred on an epic love story with a twist that draws you in fast. The strong themes of grief, absent fathers and maternal instincts are consistent emotional pulls throughout. Trudy and Abe are the ultimate love story, but there is also a wonderfully atmospheric ghostly mystery to be solved as well.
The publisher tells us that this book is all about “love, hope, and family secrets”, but not how exquisitely it’s all handled. If you enjoy a story with a dual time thread, this book will take your breath away – there aren’t just two, but three, and the way they’re entangled makes this book such a compelling read. There’s a present day story, as Trudy returns to her family home of Ponden Hall on the Yorkshire moors, her grief at the loss of her husband palpable as she wrestles with the echoes of both their past and the layers of history she uncovers; there’s the story of Agnes, told through her discovered letters; and there’s the intriguing link with the later years of Emily Bronte’s life and legacy.
I read this book on a steaming hot afternoon in the garden, and really did it something of a dis-service – this is a book that should perhaps be read on one of those days of more usual Yorkshire weather, as the darkness closes in and the shadows gather. I’ve noticed that others have said how they were hooked from the first page – I’ll admit it took me a little longer, but once I became immersed in the twists and turns of the story, its atmospheric setting, and its different threads I read breathlessly to the end, lost in its pages, and was enchanted throughout. There’s an intriguing mystery – actually, there are several – and a strong element of the supernatural, handled in that cleverly unsettling way that keeps you on the wrong foot, each occurrence somewhere in the realms between the very real and the world of nightmares.
The characterisation is quite wonderful. Trudy herself, although sympathetically drawn (particularly in the anguish of her loss and her relationship with her young son), was a character I struggled at times to find likeable – but she’s a strong focus for the story that unfolds, as her belief and persistence drives her on in her personal recovery and her quest to uncover the secrets of the past. Her mother begins as a caricature – and perhaps was one reason why I briefly struggled – but I loved the way she became fleshed out as their relationship built and family history was uncovered. Agnes’ story is totally heartbreaking, the letters a wonderful way of slowly revealing her story – and I really liked the way her tragedy was gently mirrored in the present day. And as for the Bronte elements – the author’s love for her subject shines through, and this was maybe the element I enjoyed more than any other. And when discussing characters, it’s impossible to ignore Ponden Hall itself – steeped in history, deeply atmospheric, slowly revealing its secrets – and the descriptions of it and its surroundings are just stunning, so much more than a simple backdrop.
I hardly need to say that the writing is wonderful – I expected nothing less. Rowan Coleman has a unique ability to remove the barrier between the reader and the story, to draw you into the world she creates, to breathe their air, to feel what they feel – and I don’t think her writing has ever been better than it is in this book. Highly, highly recommended.
About the author
Rowan Coleman lives with her husband and their five children in a very full house in Hertfordshire. She juggles writing novels with raising her family. Rowan’s last novel, The Summer of Impossible Things, was selected for Zoe Ball’s ITV Book Club. Rowan has an everlasting love for the Brontes, and is a regular visitor of Ponden Hall.