Bleakly Hall Hardcover – 10 Feb 2011
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`I can't remember the last time I read a novel that fizzed with so much energy, or swung so acrobatically between lightly carbonated comedy and pitch-black horror' --The Scotsman
`In a series of funny, moving set pieces, di Rollo explores the aftermath of the Great War through her cast of bewildered veterans' --Marie Claire
'If you like detective fiction, you'll love this' --Irish Independent
'So is THE LEOPARD as good as THE SNOWMAN? In my opinion it's better. More layered with more suspicious characters, red-herrings and locations than ever before'
A novel of wit and imagination - about friendship, loss and the effects of war.See all Product description
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This was a strange book, which almost seemed to be attempting two genres at once. On the one hand, there was the same not very funny slapstick comedy that made me find Di Rollo's first novel rather irritating - the ridiculous treatments at Bleakly Hall, the silly behaviour of Peter Foxley, the explosion towards the end of the book, the nonsensical conversations of the Hall's owners. On the other hand, Di Rollo seemed to be telling at times a moving story of World War I that almost seemed modelled on Pat Barker. The scenes in the trenches, and the flashbacks to Monty and Ada's experiences ambulance driving were superb, and Monty's tenderness to Sophia very moving - even if the character of Sophia herself remained rather too bland and predictable to be the object of such heroic devotion. And Di Rollo certainly had some quite profound things to say about the effect of war on daredevil types such as Peter Foxley, who are great as male comrades but can't cope with the idea of women as independent beings at all, and see them only as objects of prey. Her depiction of Foxley's collapse from heroic soldier to VD-ridden degenerate was brilliant.
Ultimately my main criticism of the book was that I could have done with more of the serious stuff, and more fleshing out of the characters - particularly Monty (was she in love with Sophia, or was it just a warm friendship?) and Sophia, and less of the farcical business. With this book, Di Rollo has proved that she does have a big, serious book in her. I hope with her third volume that she'll write it.
The story of 'Bleakly Hall' alternates between the horrors of the trenches and the casualties of the First World War and the aftermath when several of the survivors meet in Bleakly Hall. Monty is a nurse who worked in hospitals near the front line and drove an ambulance with Ada to rescue wounded soldiers.
Monty has a score to settle with Captain Foxley, Ada misses her wartime sense of purpose, the Blackwood brothers must reinvigorate or reinvent Bleakly Hall for a new era and Captain Foxley has his own particular ways of keeping his ghosts at bay. Can the story be classified as a mystery? Not really, but everyone has their own secrets to live with.
Other reviews tried to make sense of the novel by calling it a tragicomedy or creatively describing the story as 'swung so acrobatically between lightly carbonated comedy and pitch-black horror'. They are all wrong, but I admit that I was puzzled too at first. I felt a bit like the Sorting Hat in the novels of Harry Potter that had a hard time deciding in which House it would put Harry: 'Difficult. Very difficult'. But then, suddenly, I understood.
The residents of Bleakly Hall were all suffering physically and mentally from their harrowing experiences at the front. The main characters clearly exhibit the telltale signs of a Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), such as mood swings, trouble sleeping, forgetting (inability to recall), repression, depression, irritability, sudden outbursts of anger and difficulty in concentrating. Everybody has its own personal ways of dealing with their ghosts of the past.
Elaine di Rollo has managed to write an engrossing story. I imagine the immensely moving and intensely tragic tale of 'Bleakly Hall' can produce a secret tear or two from readers. Buy it and read it!