The Girl In The Photograph
My thanks to Penguin Books UK, for the complimentary copy of this book
In The Girl In The Photograph, set in the 1930s, Alice Eveleigh finds herself facing the kind of trouble that was a nightmare for unmarried girls of that era. Pregnant and to a married man, she is shipped off to stay with a childhood friend of her mothers, Mrs Jelphs, who is the long standing housekeeper to a well to do family at Fiercombe Manor.
The novel shifts between the present perspective of Alice, and Lady Elizabeth Stanton, former mistress of the estate, whose belongings and notes are to be found in unexpected places.
The description of Stanton House made me think of Wentworth Woodhouse, the home of the Fitzwilliam family notorious for its almost grotesque dimensions, so I found it really easy and really atmospheric to imagine this imposing structure built to impress but also to subdue. It was as though the full force of Edward's artifice was contained within its form. Clever.
There is a beautiful sense of landscape, but a ghostly sense too, it is as if you can feel the wind. I felt it made great use of pathetic fallacy.
The thing I most loved about 'The Girl In The Photograph' is that it joins a number of recent books critical of the psychiatric system and in particular its historic abuse of women; were once reasons for admission to an asylum included "novel reading" and "grief". Though some might say the system has improved for the better, in some ways poor treatment with sinister overtones remains the experience of many. As a topic, it is one that deserves to be better remembered and more openly discussed, behaviour coercion and punishment, masquerading as "medicine".
There is a lot of comparison between Alice and Elizabeth, though Alice lives in a supposedly more enlightened age than that of Elizabeth, social conventions of 80 years ago, still meant that she had to run away or live in disgrace. As women I think we do need to be reminded of just how much womens rights and lives improved in the 20th Century, lest we forget what previous generations had to suffer through to get us to this point.
I also loved the ongoing motif of the Girl In The Photograph, more than one girl and more than one photograph encompassing several lives.
A spooky, gothic tale, I feel this is a great recommendation for people who have previously enjoyed Sarah Waters' novels, particularly The Little Stranger and Fingersmith. I find that after a week I can still visualise moments in this novel very clearly and feel that the story will stay with me for a long time.
2015 Challenge : Book by a female author.