Saturday, October 25, 2014

A creepy country house gothic with a creepy hero

The Winter Folly, one of the choices in my recent gallery of new country house novels, is a massive, juicy gothic saga.  A splashy beach read, but with chills an intriguing combination.  I barely noticed its 500-page length and gobbled it up in just over a day. 

Unfortunately, the clueless behavior of its modern-day heroine and its warped interpersonal relationships made the book hard to digest.

This is a dual-stranded story, with one thread set in the '60s, the other set a generation later, in the present.  Both offered some shocking surprises I didn't see coming.  One concluded in a satisfactory enough manner, albeit with some High Drama along the way.  As for the other...

In 1965 England, the sheltered, young Alexandra Crewe agrees to an arranged marriage but quickly comes to regret it.  Her love affair with an old friend, Nicky Stirling, leads her to become the unexpected mistress of Fort Stirling, a castle in Dorset which loomed large in her childhood.  Alexandra's toddler son, John, nearly tumbles to the ground while climbing the ruined old tower on the property, and other horrors are still to come.  The historical backdrop doesn't come through strongly, but I can't say anything felt out of place, either.

Delilah Stirling, Alexandra's daughter-in-law, is the novel's second heroine.  Much younger than John, she becomes his second wife after a whirlwind romance and settles in with him at the castle, but she isn't entirely easy about the decision.  There's some mystery in his past that inexplicably turns her seemingly thoughtful and beloved John, who she barely knows, into a brusque, controlling man.

She quits her London job at his request (without too much objection) and isn't permitted to make the house her own.  The dusty attic, full of old trunks and secrets, is "the only place in the house that she was allowed free rein."  John has lost his taste for socializing, so Delilah is essentially isolated.  He also pressures Delilah to get pregnant.  He laughs at her contemptuously when she tries to help him with his problems.  Good thing their sex life is so amazing, because that makes it all worth it.

With so much time on her hands, she determines to uncover the trauma in his past.  Why is there no trace of his beautiful mother after 1974?  What terrible things happened at the old folly?  There are rumors that it was the scene of a suicide...

Suspense increases as the two stories, told in alternating chapters for the most part, wind together more closely.  I was curious about the underlying mystery, and it's for this reason that I had trouble setting the novel aside.  Two-thirds of the way through, though, we have this, from Delilah's viewpoint:

"For the first time, she wondered if her marriage had been a mistake.  John had been so awful to her lately and it seemed that despite all her efforts and all her love, her marriage was crumbling ... Can I still save it? she wondered.  Do I have the strength?  Can I fix him?  But, more than that, she wondered if she still wanted to."

I kept thinking:  Delilah, hon, your husband is a manipulative creep.  Your marriage isn't healthy.  You can't "fix him."  This isn't the way it works in real life.  You need to get away.

Let me also say that this isn't paranormal fiction.  If it was, maybe I could have bought into more of Delilah's storyline.  As it was, though, its resolution left me utterly disappointed.

The Winter Folly was published by Pan in 2014; this was a personal purchase.


  1. Sorry it did not work for you. I thought the story was creepily interesting though!

    1. The story itself was interesting and definitely creepy. I see the author has a new one out shortly; I may try it to see if the situations more realistic (plus, so many of her male characters are unpleasant in this one!).