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.