Gwen Rowland is an independent, self-contained young woman in her mid twenties. Christened Guinevere by her drug-addicted mother because she was conceived at Glastonbury, Gwen’s life has deliberately taken the opposite track to that of her mother, aunts & uncles, all now dead from drink, drugs & misadventure. Gwen studied art, fell in love with textiles & works as a wardrobe assistant on film & TV sets. While working on a Regency drama, she meets Alfie Donovan, an actor who seems strangely familiar. Alfie’s childhood has been just as dysfunctional as Gwen’s. His mother, Rae Holbrooke, is the author of the wildly successful series of children’s books, Tom Dickon Harry. Alfie had been the inspiration for the boy in the books, a much-loved son after the birth of four daughters. A documentary on his mother’s work when he was young had just augmented the legend & led to a distance, both emotional & physical, between Alfie & his family. He only goes home, reluctantly, for Christmas.
Alfie & Gwen’s friendship becomes a relationship &, when Gwen asks if they’ll spend Christmas together, Alfie reluctantly invites her to his family home, Creake Hall. Gwen is entranced by Creake Hall, an Elizabethan mansion kept going by Viv & Hattie, Alfie’s two sisters who still live at home. They care for their mother, Rae, who has had a breakdown & now rarely leaves her room. Viv is in her fifties, works hard in the house & the garden. She seems to have no inner life at all, never having had a relationship of her own. Hattie has also been damaged by her past. She’s a little fey, a little fragile, but she is a wonderful seamstress & makes gorgeous quilts, using vintage fabrics from the trunks & wardrobes of Creake Hall. This forms a bond between Gwen & Hattie when they meet. Viv tries to explain this odd family to Gwen,
Well, I think all you really need to know about us as a family, Gwen, is that we’re… fragmented. We aren’t close. Never have been, never will be. Oh, I’m fond of Hattie, but she’s only a half-sister and I’m old enough to be her mother. Ours is a strange relationship… We’re an odd bunch of siblings altogether! The only thing we have in common is Rae. Our ambivalence towards her. And our concern for her… Alfie comes to see her once a year and we’re all very grateful to him for that. It keeps Rae going. He’s her obsession now – has been since the last breakdown. He’s her precious son. But she was never a mother to him. Never a proper mother to any of us, if truth be told.
Gwen becomes uneasy when she starts to realise that Alfie hasn’t told her the truth about his background. She notices things. The photo of a boy playing cricket left-handed when Alfie is right-handed. The scraps of letters she finds in Hattie’s scraps bag that Alfie supposedly wrote home from school. The details don’t add up & Alfie’s story becomes just one of the secrets hidden in the past of this family & this house.
Gwen’s life is also shaken by her meeting with Marek. Marek is working as the Holbrooke’s gardener. He’s known as Tyler because Rae always calls the gardener Tyler, just as the dogs are always Harris & Lewis, although the original Harris & Lewis died years before. Gwen Is immediately attracted to Marek, a man with secrets of his own. Half-Polish, half-Scottish, Marek practiced as a psychiatrist until five years ago when he left his profession & became a gardener. Marek is strong, sensitive & he plays the cello like an angel. He’s also a good listener, the product of his former life as a therapist,
‘I’m not wise,’ he replied, ‘just a people-watcher. If you watch enough people and watch them carefully, patterns emerge. From those patterns you can glean a few truths about human behaviour. It’s not wisdom, just observation. So, no, it’s not exhausting, it’s fascinating. Sometimes satisfying. I don’t do it intentionally any more. In fact, my intention is not to do it, but it still happens. It’s who I am. What I am.’
Linda Gillard’s heroes are always gorgeous, sexy & irresistible. I’ve read all her novels & loved all her heroes but Marek is very special. He can even make old, grey pyjamas sexy. As Gwen & Marek fall into bed & begin to fall in love, Gwen realises that she has never really known Alfie at all. Gwen becomes the catalyst that exposes the lies & deceit at the heart of the Holbrooke family.
I think Linda Gillard is a wonderful writer of contemporary fiction. I’ve known Linda for several years now. We were both members of the same online reading group for a while & we’ve kept in touch via email ever since, so this is my disclaimer! House of Silence is a compulsively readable book. It’s a compelling story of family secrets & lies, set in a crumbling Elizabethan mansion at Christmas in the depths of a freezing Norfolk winter. The heroine is smart, independent & compassionate. The hero is, quite frankly, gorgeous. You would think that publishers would be falling over themselves to publish this book. Well, they’re not. Linda Gillard has published three other novels.
Emotional Geology & A Lifetime Burning were published by Transita & Star Gazing by Piatkus. All three novels are award winners (Star Gazing was shortlisted for the Romance Writers Association award for Best Romantic Novel in 2009) but Linda has been trying to get House of Silence published for over two years. So, Linda decided to take advantage of the move towards e-books & e-publish.
House of Silence has just been released exclusively as an e-book for the Kindle through Amazon. The reasons for Linda’s decision to publish in this way will be revealed tomorrow in a special guest blog that Linda has written for I Prefer Reading. In the meantime, have a look at Linda’s website & at the Amazon US listing for House of Silence (if you’re anywhere in the world except the UK). If you’re in the UK, you can buy House of Silence at Amazon UK. If you have a Kindle or can read Kindle e-books on your e-reader or PC, please have a look at Linda’s book on Amazon.