Sunday, February 28, 2010

G is for Grange

Sarah Blake's The Postmistress, out this month, has been making many appearances in the literary blogosphere and on bestseller lists around the country. I thought this would be an excellent time to highlight her first novel, Grange House, published ten years ago.

Grange House
is an elegant recreation of a Victorian gothic novel, complete with ghostly appearances, long-lost family secrets, and a narrative style that calls to mind the works of Henry James and Wilkie Collins. Seventeen-year-old Maisie Thomas is the picture of innocence as the novel begins, and though she yearns for adventure and romance, even she can't imagine where her curiosity will lead her.

Daughter of a well-to-do New York family, Maisie and her devoted Mama and Papa spend each summer at Grange House, a mansion along the Maine coast. Aside from the household staff, their chosen lodging has one permanent resident: the ailing, elderly Miss Grange. A local authoress of repute, Miss Grange is assumed by the family to be a poor relation of the mansion's former owners. Taking Maisie under her wing, she recounts fantastic stories about the Grange family's early history. However, neither Miss Grange nor her tales are quite what they seem to be.

It's up to Maisie to sort through the real and the fictional, and to sift through details hidden within twenty years' worth of stories, letters, and diaries -- before the tragedies of Grange House begin to repeat themselves once more. Maisie finds the romance she's been seeking as well, but she must choose between two men: will it be her father's young business partner, Jonathan Lanman, or charming Bart Hunnowell?

Sarah Blake's wonderfully chosen language will carry you back in time to the ever-subtle, precise, yet melodramatic world of high society at the end of the 19th century, in which women who seem almost to faint at the slightest disturbance of equilibrium can still be strong enough to keep secrets that hold their family together. At times the ornate description tends to interfere with the heightening suspense. If you can hold back from skipping ahead to the end, however, you have an exciting reading experience in store.

I haven't yet read The Postmistress (it's on the ever-growing TBR) but from all I've read, Grange House is written in a very different style. It takes the form of a story-within-a-story, with plenty of deliberate twists and turns in the carefully constructed plot. I'd recommend it to readers who enjoy Victorian-style mysteries like Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale and John Harwood's The Seance.

Grange House was published by Picador USA in 2000, and the paperback edition is still in print. Parts of this writeup previously appeared, in a slightly different form, in the Historical Novels Review.


  1. I actually didn't realise that Sarah Blake had written another book!

    This does sound like one I would like but it doesn't seem to be readily available here.

  2. I think I read this but Im not 100% sure. Isn't that awful? BTW, love the new pic.

  3. Thanks! The header pic was my weekend project... and it took a good part of that time. Pretty sad, huh? The hardest part was finding the right photo.

    I love creepy Victorian ghost stories and this one fit the bill for me. Been quite a while since I read it though.

  4. I don't know why, but I thought Postmistress was her first book. Thanks for correcting me on that. It does sound quite different but worthwhile. I am one of the bloggers who raved about Postmistress.

  5. Teddy, you're not alone as many newspaper reviews, even, describe Postmistress as her debut novel. It's been so long since the first book that people in the industry didn't remember Grange House. I'm looking forward to reading Postmistress, especially as it's set close by where I used to live.

  6. Ooh, this sounds like a lot of fun! Great idea to highlight this older book in light of all the recent press.

  7. Anonymous2:17 PM

    I've started THE POSTMISTRESS and I think it's this year's Sarah's Guernsey Literary Society Key.