Lauren A. Forry

Abigale Hall

" engaging and entertaining book.."


1947 and the City of London is still licking its wounds after a long, drawn-out war. Food is scarce and jobs are scarcer to earn money to buy the food that isn't available. Eliza and her sister, Rebecca have lost everything – even their parents, to the dreadful war. Now they live in lodgings with their Aunt Bess, a spinster who doesn't have time for a seventeen year-old who is always late and Rebecca at twelve who is not socially adept and can't be left alone.

Then one wet and cold night in February, a one-armed man comes to the door of their tiny flat with Aunt Bess who delivers Eliza the news that she and her sister are to move to a dilapidated manor in the Welsh countryside… immediately. With all they can carry packed in minutes, Eliza and Rebecca are thrown in to world of servitude where they are treated no better than a dog. As the days pass, strange things start to happen. Is Eliza really seeing the ghost of Victoria who vanished days before her wedding to Brownawell, the lord of the manor? What of the other maids before her who have also disappeared without trace? Does the vile housekeeper, Miss Pollard have her own plan for Eliza and Rebecca? As the days become weeks, Eliza learns more and more about the huge, ram-shackled house called Thornecroft and everything makes her more frightened with every tiny truth. Eliza feels she is trapped, but her beau, Peter Lamb is determined to track down Eliza and bring her back to London.

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This novel is placed during 1947 and Forry superbly describes London on its knees: the poverty, the starvation, the joblessness. She marvellously conveys the daily struggle to survive day by day. In a world of excess where we can buy clothes on a daily basis, it is good to be reminded of a time when people had to 'make do', bringing down hems and sewing up threadbare clothes as clothing coupons were so precious. I really enjoyed the beginning of this book, but then it felt as though I had entered another book when the girls are taken to Wales. The feel of the book changed and many times, due to the style of writing and what was going on, I had to continually remind myself that this was supposed to be 1947, and not 1847, or even 1747! The premise of the novel intrigued me and I do enjoy a good Gothic novel (try Sheridan Le Fanu's 'Uncle Silas'), and this felt a little like that, although as the story progressed I felt as though the author had let slip her grip on the plot that she had at the very beginning during the London scenes. There was serious editing needed here and I was getting a little tired of the repetitive remarks about breathing in black gunge in to the lungs. Obviously, Ms. Forry has a thing about lungs and fresh air – or rather lack of it in this instance. Also, there are many dreams/nightmares that litter this book. One or two I feel is permissible, but after a while I felt that Eliza's dreams were beginning to feel like padding. My comments may sound negative, but when a publisher equates a debut such as 'Abigale Hall' to du Maurier's 'Rebecca' of which this is obviously a form of homage to, then you can't help comparing the two, which is unfair to Forry and puts her at a disadvantage. Where Forry does excel is characterisation. Despite wishing to shake some sense in to Eliza, who despite escaping her prison on several occasions, only to come back again due to her lack of backbone, is still endearing. The hideous Miss Pollard is formidable and memorable and is surely the lovechild of Mrs Danvers and Nurse Ratchett, two of the coldest women known in fiction. Aunt Bess had potential but was sadly underused. After reading over three hundred pages, the ending was a little sudden. Ms Forry needs to have a better hold of her plot and not be tempted to throw everything but the kitchen sink at it. Despite my criticisms, 'Abigale Hall' is an engaging and entertaining book and I do think that Forry's vivid imagination will see her create new worlds and even better stories. A diamond in the rough, who with some fine polishing, could very well shine.

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