The House In Thornton Wood
The cover of The House In Thornton Wood features a young woman enveloped in a cloak and hood in the foreground of a dark and brooding landscape complete with a shadowy mansion. Let’s read the blurb on the back cover, hmm, we have a governess, an isolated house, a mysterious woods, gypsies, mystery, and a dark lover. Ladies and gentlemen, the gothic novel is back! After a long absence, the gothic novel has returned to delight its old fans and gather new ones.
After Olivia St. Claire’s mother dies, she knows she must make her own way in the world, so she applies at an agency to become a governess. She is offered a position as the governess to Vanessa Thornton, the daughter of Sir Evan Thornton. The terms are agreeable, so Olivia sets out for Thornton Manor.
Along the way, the carriage loses a wheel, and Olivia and the coachman spend the night with the gypsies. One of the gypsy women tells Olivia that she will have a rendezvous with “The Prince of Darkness” (hmm, I thought Ozzy was taken)
At Thornton Manor, we meet the rest of the cast; Sir Evan Thornton, his mother Lady Thornton, Miss Hamilton, who is Lady Thornton’s companion, Lord Fenwick, who had been Sir Evan’s father in law, several servants, and Vanessa Thornton.
It’s obvious from the beginning that Thornton Manor is a Bad Place. There is a fire the first day. The fire forces Olivia, Vanessa and several servants to take refuge in Amberwood, Lord Fenwick’s house, a place where Olivia would feel very much at home if it were not for all the occurences that surround her.
Vanessa is a malicious, hateful child. She is horridly rude, contrives to lose Olivia in a maze, and seemingly cannot be controlled. Olivia is plagued by terrible headaches and keeps having visions of a cowled man. At first she thinks he is a shepherd, but no one else seems to be able to see him. As she begins to explore, and ask questions, Olivia soon finds out that Thornton Manor had been the scene of a terrible event years earlier – an event that involved Sir Evan’s first wife, Violette. Soon, Sir Evan begins to take an interest in Olivia, but so does the arrogant and infuriating Dr. McAllister. One of them is the Prince of Darkness, but whom?
As is traditional for the gothic romance, this book is told in first person, which in this instance left me detached from almost all the characters save Olivia, and I didn’t warm up to her at all. The romance is muted and a claustrophobic feeling permeates the read. Given the first person narrative and my lack of connection with Olivia, I closed the book feeling as though I’d spent several hours in a room full of strangers.
The mystery in The House In Thornton Wood is the very well done; its conclusion was surprising and the solution sent cold chills up my spine. That said, however, two events from the past were extremely disturbing and pushed my personal hot buttons. These two incidents were so unnerving that they overshadowed everything else in the book.
I used to enjoy gothic novels; I loved Dorothy Eden, and Anya Seton’s Dragonwyck is an all-time favorite of mine. After a long absence, I’m very happy to see that they are making a return. Fans of the gothic novel who don’t have the same hot buttons I do may well enjoy The House In Thornton Wood. But after all that darkness and intensity, I need something light, so I am off to read The Code of the Woosters by the funniest writer in the universe, P.G. Wodehouse.