It’s an absolute delight today to share my review of The House by the Sea by Louise Douglas (with an apology that it’s taken me so very long to put it together): published on 13th February by Boldwood Books, it’s now available for kindle, in paperback, and as an audiobook. My reading copy was provided by the publishers, via netgalley – thank you, Boldwood!
I can’t believe it’s been five years since Louise Douglas’ last book. I’ve read every one since the quite wonderful The Love of my Life back in 2009 – it was long-listed for the RNA Romantic Novel of the Year Award, and thoroughly deserved its nomination. Her second, the heart-breaking Missing You, won the RNA Readers’ Choice Award: her third, The Secrets Between Us, a highly accomplished thriller and love story strongly reminiscent of Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, was a 2012 Richard and Judy Summer Read. Then came In Her Shadow, followed by Your Beautiful Lies (you’ll find my review here on Being Anne: and there followed The Secret By The Lake, and I thought it was perhaps the best of them all (you’ll find my review here).
With the long silence that followed, I feared it might have been her last – so when I saw this one, I almost shed tears of joy that I could read another book from an author who’s always been such a personal favourite.
When Edie’s mother-in-law, Anna DeLuca, dies, she is relieved. Edie blames Anna for the accident that destroyed her family. So, when her will lures Edie to Sicily and the long-abandoned Villa della Madonna del Mare, she sees through Anna’s games.
Suspecting Anna is meddling from beyond the grave to try to reunite her and her ex-husband Joe, Edie is determined to leave Italy as soon as possible. But before she can, the villa starts to shed its mysterious secrets.
Who are the girls beside Anna in her childhood photos, and why has one of them been scratched out? Why does someone, or something, want them to leave the past untouched? The villa is a place where old ghosts feel at home, but does their legacy need to be laid to rest before Edie and Joe can move on…
Bestselling author Louise Douglas returns with a captivating, chilling and unforgettable tale of betrayal, jealousy and the mysteries hidden in every family history.
This book entirely consumed me from its opening pages until I reluctantly reached the final page – the best of story-telling, fascinating characters, a location I felt I’d been inhabiting for as long as I read, and an atmosphere that entirely chills you to the bone.
Edie is a particularly compelling character – initially spiky, clearly damaged by her recent experience – and a clear and consistent voice that carries the narrative, forced back together with ex-husband Joe to settle his mother’s estate in Sicily. Their exchanges are brittle and raw, with a legacy of damage and hurt from the recent accident – until they reach the Villa della Madonna del Mare, barely habitable but a location where some particular magic happens. It’s a place for repair and healing, where the echoes of the past are close to the surface, and it’s absolutely enthralling to see the characters draw closer as their edges begin to soften.
We find out more – with exquisite slowness – about the accident that changed their lives, and the reasons why Edie holds such hatred in her heart for Anna, her mother-in-law. The emotional impact of the whole story is immense: it takes a while for both Edie and Joe to become wholly sympathetic, but their every contact – with those ragged and bleeding edges – is something you feel, and it really hurts.
The author’s descriptions are simply wonderful – particularly the lush wilderness of the villa’s garden, with its hidden secrets to be discovered, but also the surrounding countryside with its contrasts of wasteland and beauty. And the sea – sometimes an instrument of healing as they dive from the landing stage, sometimes viscous and unwelcoming. Present day Sicily – the real world outside the villa’s gates – is well handled too: the local characters and their stories, and that constant edge of suppressed violence that I remember feeling when I spent time there.
The villa itself becomes another character, with its ghosts and memories – deeply atmospheric, the secrets of the past always close to the surface. There’s a mystery about a missing valuable painting, and then there are a few disturbing incidents – some maybe sabotage, some just downright creepy – that make Edie and Joe feel they are unwelcome there. And then there are all those hidden family secrets, a long history of betrayal and jealousy… their impact on the present, and their part in the healing journey.
I really loved this book – it’s an enthralling story, haunting in its every detail, so beautifully written. The character development is quite exceptional – and the whole book had an unforgettable impact. Highly, highly recommended.
About the author
Louise Douglas is the bestselling and brilliantly reviewed author of 6 novels including The Love of my Life and Missing You – a RNA award winner. The Secrets Between Us was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. She lives in the West Country.