Rhiannon Ward

The Quickening

"'...you will be trapped within the confines of Clewer Hall until all its mysteries and secrets have been unearthed.' "


England, 1925. Louisa Drew lost her husband in the First World War and her six-year-old twin sons in the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. Newly re-married and seven months pregnant, Louisa is asked by her employer to travel to Clewer Hall in Sussex to photograph the contents of the house for auction. Desperate for money after falling on hard times, she accepts the commission.

On arrival, she learns Clewer Hall was host to an infamous séance in 1896, the consequences of which still haunt the family. Before the Clewer's leave England for good, the lady of the house has asked those who attended the original séance to recreate the evening. Louisa soon becomes embroiled in the strange happenings of the house, unravelling the long-held secrets of what happened that night thirty years before... and discovers her own fate is entwined with Clewer Hall's.

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Is it some comfort to us that we now have wi-fi and mobile phones to keep us connected to the rest of the world? For some, they may love the feel of that isolation, being cut off by the snow, no tv, no radio, no telephone! It sounds idyllic, but truly how long would any of us survive without communicating with the outside world? With ‘The Quickening’, Rhiannon Ward perfectly describes how that idyll can quickly turn into a nightmare, how things can slowly escalate and the joy of retreating from the world can make you feel stranded, without escape from the malevolent shadows in the corner of your eye… ‘The Quickening’ is all about atmosphere, how Clewer Hall hums and vibrates, the echoes of past years making their presence felt in the present. It is the sense of feeling and not quite seeing that lends this book the perfect pitch. Louisa senses the danger rather than blatantly sees it. Is there something in the house reaching out to Louisa or is it her imagination? As with most attitudes towards women back in 1925, any thought of the paranormal is put down by the men to Louisa’s pregnancy and the fact being pregnant heightens a woman’s paranoia! But Louisa feels her baby is in serious danger and this new life growing inside her is the main driving force behind Ward’s story. ‘The Quickening’ is about motherhood, the bond between mother and child, how the bond is not broken with the loss of a child, how in those days motherhood was the expected main role of all women and how a woman can reconcile the death of a child as a new one is born with a future their sibling never had. These questions are all brought up with subtlety, but they never detract from the story, but as I said, it drives the plot as Helene, the lady of Clewer Hall desperately needs communication with her sons, all lost in the Great War, before the family leaves Clewer Hall for good. Ward perfectly shows how lives from across the classes were destroyed by war, the palpable grief that bled into the walls of homes across the world. The saying, ‘If these walls could talk…’ was never truer with this novel, but the secrets, lies and loss are not holding Clewer Hall together, it is destroying it, making the walls of the Hall crumble and disintegrate under the weight of its own misery. I could wax lyrical about ‘The Quickening’ for ages. I read this book in two sittings, the second one I read about two thirds in one go when I had plenty of other jobs to do, but this one would not let me go. I am sure, that like me, you will be trapped within the confines of Clewer Hall until all its mysteries and secrets have been unearthed.

Reviewed By:

Chris Simmons