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A RAMBLING, OVERLONG, WEAK-PLOTTED MUDDLE
on 15 October 2014
In 1999 Liz and her wealthy financier husband Edward Jessop buy an old house in Kent (Beckmans), unaware of its tragic past. With twin babies to care for, they begin renovations. But Harriet, who had died there in 1972, still resides. But what exactly is Harriet? You may well ask …
This is not a ghost story in the proper sense. There is no atmosphere, chilling or otherwise, and somehow JB has ignored all the tenets of good writing. People move from place to place without an explanation of how they got there. A picture is painted without paint, etc. The timings are chaotic – in one chapter the twins are 11 years old in the next they are only 9. From babies in 2000 they manage to be 11 by 2007. Harriet goes from 40 to 75 all in a few pages. We are told that the developers who had sold them the house had built a housing estate over the perimeter fence of their garden. This was never mentioned again – there are several of these anomalies throughout.
As to the characters, there is not one among them who is sympathetic. The Jessops are ghastly (he a pompous, hard-drinking adulterer, she a vacuous, self-centered bore) as are their friends. When Edward gives his ten-year-old son a mug of brandy (eh?) and later finds him unconscious at the kitchen table, he does nothing because he himself is drunk – as is everyone else in the house - their daughter Jenny believes this is normal. There is no backstory, apart from Harriet’s. The ‘voice’ of the characters is wrong – sometimes Edward is full of ‘mate, beer and football’, then he’s suddenly rather upper class and only plays cricket and rugby and drinks wine.
The overwriting is phenomenal. … So she did just that… How lucky was that? How exciting was that? Clichés appear in almost every sentence and she seems to have looked-up interesting words in the dictionary and then misused them. We are constantly pushed away from the story by boring trivia.
If you plan to write a book about a place you don’t know, with people not from a familiar background, in a time you haven’t lived through and on a subject you know little about you do a lot of research. Too often JB treats her readers with disdain – put in incorrect facts and you lose credibility. When Harriet inherits ‘Beckmans’ at 18 she moves in alone but under the law it would have been held in trust until she reached 21; and she couldn’t have been wearing a duffle coat in 1940 because they weren’t made commercially until 1953 …and so on. We are also told ‘Beckmans’ is near the fictitious village of Watermere. Kentish names have strong, unwatery associations: like: ‘oaks, ham, stead, stone…’ but not ‘mere’. We are told that for Harriet and David growing up during 1942 in the house near West Malling life was a quiet idyll. The Blitz was on! The area was known as ‘bomb alley’ and German bombers frequently dropped their unused bombs on it on their way home. Harriet’s mother is forever dressing up and going out. Where? Petrol is at a premium, trains are scarce and there’s a strict blackout.
And Harriet? What is she? We are told she never goes out and is unaware she has died but, despite being dead, has carried on eating and drinking for the last 30 years; one has to wonder where the groceries came from. JB tells us that ghosts have no physical ability – yet Harriet manages to sabotage building machinery, demolish fences, slash tyres and punch people in the stomach. And JB’s premise that ghosts continue to age once they are dead is preposterous as is the assertion that the house has survived ‘armadas’ … I cannot recommend this nonsense.