The first book from my Spooky Autumn Reads list and I’ve started with a bang. I’ll go into my thoughts below of course but I just love to read Gothic tomes in the Autumn. Very few things make me feel as happy.
This one is just very lovely – delicious, atmospheric, melancholy and gripping AF. I powered through it in a couple of days and it made quite the bedtime companion, long after my husband had passed out. I really admired the central protagonist and her single-minded gumption.
Let’s unwrap it shall we?
The Lost Ones by Anita Frank
In the classic tradition of The Woman in Black, Anita Frank weaves a spellbinding debut of family tragedy, loss and redemption.
This is one of those books that creeps you out and makes you clench your bladder for half an hour too long because you can’t possibly run to the loo alone. Not until you’ve worked up the courage to get there and back. A lot like The Little Stranger which I have referenced in relation to this novel already. Do you ever read a book by the light of your bedside lamp, then you look into the dark abyss around you and wonder what might be lurking? THAT.
Stella Marcham is a steely young woman almost floored by the death of her fiance Gerald in the war. Haunted by the memory of him dying in her arms (she was a VAD nurse at the time), she’s all but given up on life. On the verge of being sent away to an institute for hysterical females by the sinister Dr Mayhew, hope is at hand when her sister Madeleine asks her to come and visit. Madeleine is preggo and resting up at her husband’s family home, Greyswick – the house soon to become her forever home.
But what sweeping country mansion doesn’t come with problems? This one seems to go bump in the night – tiny footsteps on the stairs, a child crying – and fragile Madeleine isn’t coping well. Not helping is the open disdain of her mother-in-law Lady Brightwell, who hasn’t got time for silly games. What the actual fuck is going on?
Well, when Stella starts to experience the same seemingly supernatural occurrences as her sister, she decides to do something about it – and with the help of her odd bird maid, Annie Burrows – vows to get to the bottom of the mystery of Greywick. Could the tragic death of little Lucien Brightwell back in the day have something to do with it?
Add a skeptical ghost debunker to the mix in the form of Tristan Sheers, a limping war vet with a bee in his bonnet re: the supernatural – and you’re away. The ‘set pieces’ are well described and at times I really felt like I was standing in the badly lit hallways, in between Stella and Madeleine as they listened to ghostly goings-on. There’s also a Hill House vibe at play here which only makes me more excited for Bly Manor which hit Netflix yesterday.
The characterisation is also wonderful and Stella as mentioned is a total fire cracker. There’s something so satisfying about her and my heart broke many times as she recounts the ‘halcyon days’ of her pre-war life with Gerald. Her grief is incredibly sad to witness but it’s also relatable to anybody who’s ever known loss. She’s no victim though and she honestly has a minge of steel when it comes to her investigations – and to kicking against what’s expected of her as a lady.
Again, amateur super-sleuthing is my jam and Team Stella/Annie is just perfect. I also like Tristan as a secondary character who isn’t afraid to admit that his skepticism has taken a beating – and horrible Lady Brightwell who somehow manages to garner my sympathy even though she’s done some despicable things.
This is a great study on obsession, secrets and lies – and also the lengths people will go to to protect the ones they love. Whether that’s always a good thing or not. Also, it’s a tale full of hope as Stella gradually learns to let go of her crippling grief to live again.
A straight up ghostly banger.