Shortlisted for Book Of The Month
"This is a very clever story. There are so many plot twists that keep the reader gripped from beginning to end. "
1700s / 1900s
"1765: Lady Isabella Gerard asks her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it. Its shimmering beauty has been tainted by the actions of her husband the night before.
Three months later: Lord Eustace Gerard stands beside the lake looking down at the woman in the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this is not his intended victim…
1996: Fenella Brightwell steals a stunning gown from a stately home. Twenty years later and reeling from the end of an abusive marriage, she wonders if it has cursed her all this time. Now she’s determined to discover the history behind the beautiful golden dress…"
This is a very clever story. There are so many plot twists that keep the reader gripped from beginning to end. There is a satisfying denouement with a final twist that I only guessed one page before it was revealed. At one point I felt there was an implausible coincidence, but no, it is soon revealed that it was no coincidence and that a chance meeting was, in fact, anything but chance. I enjoyed the way that the book was written from several points of view and that some scenes overlapped, so that in one chapter we see Lady Isabella giving us her thoughts about her maid's behaviour and in the next, we find out what the maid was really thinking.
Dual timeline, or 'then and now' books often involve the present day characters trying to solve the mysteries of the past. Whilst this is certainly the case here, the 'traffic' is two-way. There are moments when the historical characters get a glimpse of what lies in the future, and their actions have a direct impact on the life of the main present-day character, Fenella.
When I'm reading this type of book, I ask myself about the historical setting: is it the right period? Would the story have worked as well with any other? I'm happy to say that no, it would not have worked if another setting had been used. Without giving anything away, all I can say is that in a very tangible way, what is left behind by the people in the past has an important part to play in the present-day storyline and it simply had to be written this way to make it work. We are given a fascinating history of Swindon, and it seems like every drop of information is there for a reason, although some of those reasons don't become clear until the end.
It's a multi-faceted story, and parts of it make for uncomfortable reading, given that it explores domestic abuse, both psychological and physical. Not many of the characters are endearing, but I did like Fenella, or Fen as she's known. Her character is shaped by her experiences, and she's well-written. The other characters, whilst not likeable, were certainly intriguing, and in the end, one or two of them elicited my admiration for their tenacity.
Ms Cornick is also to be admired, for the convoluted plot and the way she draws all the composite strands together. My only niggles are slight: I did wonder about the practicalities of stuffing the golden gown into a backpack, and although the blurb on the back says that Fen's first encounter with the dress is in 1996, that chapter in the book says it's 2004, which confused me a little until I realised that it must simply have been a typo.
© Annie Whitehead
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