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HOUSE OF SILENCE Kindle Edition
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"House of Silence", sadly only available for the Kindle (for shame, publishers!) ticked every possible box for me. A strong lead heroine in Gwen, a magnificently drawn supporting cast (Hattie my favourite...), brooding Marek the gardener - then there's the house itself, and the wonderful detail about the quilts, real and metaphoric. Secrets, lies, discoveries, tragedies, joy and redemption, this is a story that will appeal to all tastes - plenty for the romantic, interesting family history, part detective story. I loved every clicked page of it - absolutely superb stuff.
As previously mentioned, the book starts with the building relationship between Gwen and Alfie, both of whom have difficult backgrounds. Gwen's family all died when she was young, including her mother, and it becomes obvious to us, if not to Gwen, that this has caused it's own damage. Alfie also has difficulties with his family - but they are still around, full of complications, and expecting him to visit at Christmas, as he always does.
Alfie seems very reluctant to let Gwen join him, but eventually he agrees, and so as they travel, he tells her a little more about the various people she will meet. It's only once they arrive however, that we really get to see these wonderful characters. Like Alfie and Gwen, these character are worth reading about because they're flawed and real. And for me, this is the strength of Linda's writing, giving us real, interesting characters.
I don't mind saying that this isn't my favourite of Linda's books, as I do like it when she pushes just a little further. Emotional Geology and A Lifetime Burning are my favourites, the latter being a much more controversial book. However, House of Silence still has a lot to offer, and the second half of the book kept me gripped, reading the twists and turns to find out where it would take me.
Linda's books don't fit tidily into one genre, and if that's holding the publishers back, they really should think again, because it means that Linda's books reach a wide audience. There's a family drama, a growing mystery, glimpses of dealing with mental health issues, plus a touch of romance. Be careful though, you'll probably want to go and get the rest of Linda's books!
The outwardly likeable cast of characters soon turn out to be hiding something that increasingly spooks the isolated Gwen, and the unravelling of the mystery provides the central focus of the novel.
This intriguing and engaging story is reminiscent of Stella Gibbons' "Cold Comfort Farm" for its batty, very English characters, and the haunting setting and coming-of-age subtheme reminded me of Dodie Smith's "I Capture The Castle".
Linda Gillard has cleverly woven together experiences from her own life - acting, teaching, textiles, writing, and illness - to create a moving story with themes of motherhood, family, identity and belonging. I'd hesitate to call it either a romance or a comedy, though there are strong elements of both, nor is it exactly a thriller (more of a mystery). It's simply an intelligent, thoughtful, memorable and satisfying novel which, with its restricted cast and limited number of sets, it would make a great stage play (I'd much prefer that to a movie - at key points there'd be gasps across the auditorium!)
It's notoriously challenging to pull off a novel told through multiple viewpoints, but I understand why Gillard has taken this approach. While wanting to tell the story, Rebecca-like, largely from Gwen's viewpoint, other perspectives bolster the narrative and add further depths. I was particularly moved by the mother's first-person ramblings, in this dignified, compassionate and poignant portrait of a woman with a crumbling, unreliable memory and a precarious hold on reality.
Disclosure: I have met Linda Gillard once and she has given me a free review copy of another of her books, but I bought this one for myself.
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