The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde…
Four sisters. One summer. A lifetime of secrets.
When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbours drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.
Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumours that surround the manor.
There’s nothing I like more than dual timeline Historical fiction that orbits around a crumbling country manor harbouring dark secrets. Deeply atmospheric with a cast of relatable characters, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde ticked all of the boxes for me. From start to finish, I was caught up in the mystery and tension of both eras, the emotional turmoil within the lives of the characters, and the sheer glory of Applecote Manor, both in its hey day and its more recent decrepit state.
The mystery of what happened to Audrey links 1959 to the present day nicely, and while I usually tend to favour one era over the other in this style of novel, in this case, both eras were equally intriguing. Eve Chase has done such an excellent job at bringing Applecote Manor to life, her evocative narrative just jumping right off the page. I felt a particularly creeping sensation whenever there was a scene involving a character being alone at the garden pool:
‘Silence. There is no one, of course, nothing at all, just a magnesium lick across the pool that dazzles momentarily, leaving behind her own wavering reflection, and something that makes Jessie lean forward, heart racing, and part the slurry of leaves with her fingers to check that the submerged smudge is not a body bobbing at the bottom of the pool, just a trick of light.’
This type of evocative imagery was maintained throughout the entire novel but never overdone.
Jessie, our protagonist in the present day, was highly likeable and roused my sympathies instantly. Trying to carve out her own identity as a new mother and wife, she increasingly compares herself to her predecessor, always selling herself short. Moving to Applecote Manor is not only a new start for the whole family, but also a late in life coming of age for Jessie. She’s a character who shines throughout, honest in her introspection, and I admired her tenacity, particularly when it came to interacting with her step-daughter. I felt the author depicted this precarious relationship to perfection, and likewise, the second marriage dynamics. It would be such difficult terrain to navigate, stepping into a dead woman’s shoes and through Jessie, I got a true sense of this struggle. I always felt she acted accordingly, never in a way that was unjustified or unbelievable. The very soul of authenticity.
Margot and her sisters were a delight. I found the humour in these sections a lively addition and there were plenty of moments where I laughed out loud at the sister’s observations:
‘One afternoon Harry invites Flora to Cornton Hall; Pam is actually struck mute for three and a half hours by the swinging left hook of her own jealousy.’
The entire novel is infused with this sort of natural wit, but it’s showcased more in the 1959 sections, the dynamics of the Wilde sisters adding that ‘something more’ to every scene that they are in. The relationship between the sisters, their deep and abiding loyalty to each other, was a wonderful part of this story. They were a unit; them against the rest of the world, and they rarely lost sight of that. Margot herself was a faithful narrator and I enjoyed experiencing the 1959 story through her eyes. She puts up with a lot on account of being Audrey’s pale comparison, and I thought she showed great strength of character on more than one occasion.
The mystery itself and how it unravels between the two eras was very well done. I didn’t really foresee Audrey’s fate and there were a couple of other highly tense encounters woven into the plot, in both eras, that kept me reading well into the night. The ending is beautifully serendipitous, with a full circle aspect that I greatly appreciated. With a truly lovely cover, The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde did not prove itself unworthy of such adornment. I highly recommend this novel to those who love stories about mysterious old rambling houses in the English countryside filled to the brim with secrets, sisters, and a way of life long past.
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde was published July 13th 2017 by Penguin.