This is the title I was most looking forward to in my “Most anticipated titles of 2016” blog post and I was not disappointed! A wonderful saga of family secrets, tragic loss, and enduring love with a dual storyline, it will appeal to fans of Kate Morton, Rosamund Pilcher, Maeve Binchy and Sarah Waters.
“Black Rabbit Hall” is a large, dilapidated country house on the Roseland Peninsula in Cornwall. It is a place of rest, relaxation and family togetherness. Its charms include turret rooms, a sea view, and bountiful rabbits. On the down side it is also plagued with damp, leaking ceilings, unsynchronized clocks, a dining room far away from the kitchen, and… family tragedy. It has been in the Alton family for five generations, though has fallen into disrepair since the family suffered heavy losses in the crash of 1929.
We first meet Lorna Dunaway, who wants to rent out Black Rabbit Hall as a charming wedding venue. She feels inexplicably drawn to the place, much to her fiancé Jon’s displeasure. She has memories of her mother bringing her to the area repeatedly during her younger years. The present occupants of the house are an old lady, Caroline Alton and her maid/companion, Dilly. They invite Lorna to stay at Black Rabbit Hall in order for her to make a more informed choice of venue and, in truth, to persuade her to use the Hall as they badly need the revenue a wedding would bring in.
Then, we revert back to the late 1960s where we meet the Alton family. In particular we experience events through the eyes of the eldest daughter, Amber. They live in London, but all family holidays are spent in Cornwall. There is Hugo, the father, who works very hard and is head-over heels in love with his wife; Nancy, the mother, a fun-loving American besotted with her husband, all of her children, and Black Rabbit Hall; fifteen year old twins, Amber and Toby, six-year old Barney and three-year old Kitty. When tragedy strikes the family it is Amber who must shoulder the burden/blessing of caring for the family.. that is until their father finds a new wife, Caroline Shawcross. The family is never the same – partly due to their mother’s death – partly due to the advent of Caroline (the very epitome of the wicked stepmother) and her college age son, Lucien.
Every page of this novel was a treat. I loved the story of the Alton family and admired the way the author brought the two story lines together. Resplendent with atmosphere and all of the things that make for good fiction, love, heartbreak, bitterness, guilt, loss, and regret – this novel is an auspicious debut for Eve Chase. It has ascertained that I will be reading all of her future novels!
One of my favorite quotes from “Black Rabbit Hall”: “I think adults must get sort of worn away over time, like rocks out at sea, but remain who they are, just slower and grayer with those funny vertical wrinkles in front of their ears. But the young are a different shape from one week to the next. To know us is to run alongside us, like someone trying to shout through the window of a moving train.”
Eve Chase is the pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the British press. She lives in Oxford, England with her husband and three children.