Saturday, February 28, 2015

"Fiercombe Manor"

Kate Riordan is a British writer and journalist who worked for the Guardian and Time Out London. She is also the author of Birdcage Walk and is already at work on her third novel.

Riordan applied the Page 69 Test to her new novel, Fiercombe Manor, and reported the following:
Fiercombe Manor is a dual narrative story about two women living in different times (the 1890s and the 1930s) but constrained by society in similar ways. Both parts of the story take place in the same beautiful but remote Gloucestershire valley, where the women find themselves isolated and eventually begin to question their sanity.

In the 1930s, Alice has been exiled to Fiercombe from London to have a baby out of wedlock before giving it up for adoption. Desperate to distract herself from her own troubled present, she starts exploring the valley’s mysterious past and soon becomes completely drawn into the story of Elizabeth Stanton, lady of the manor thirty-five years earlier.

Page 69 begins with a note written by Elizabeth to her lady’s maid, Edith. In Alice’s time, Edith has become Mrs Jelphs, Fiercombe’s reticent housekeeper, who refuses to discuss her once-beloved mistress. So, Alice finding this note, hidden in an old sewing box, is (rather fortuitously, for this blog!) a key moment – when the two strands of the story begin to entwine in earnest…
My dear Edith,

A little note to tell you that I have gone for a walk to my usual place. I know you fret when I go on one of my wanderings to the other side of the valley, but I promise I will be back before anyone else misses me, and for you, I will be particularly careful (no paddling about on the slippery stones in the stream!). I simply had to go – the morning is so beautiful, the valley laid out before me so invitingly when I looked out the window, that I couldn’t wait another minute. Besides – and though I am afraid to set this down in case I tempt fate and it returns – the sickness hasn’t come this morning. Perhaps it has gone altogether and I will be able to eat a little breakfast when I am back. Will you beg Mrs. Wentworth to keep a scrap for me? You know how she will do it for you even if she does not want to do it for her mistress! If she makes a face, tell her that I must keep my strength up, as my husband never tires of reminding us all…

And if the first of the wild roses are out I will pick you one, for I know they are your favourites.

So there were two Es – Edith and someone who had been her mistress. Perhaps it had been her box once, and she had passed it on to Mrs Jelphs for her service. That made more sense. One phrase in the note had struck me, and I read it again: “the sickness hasn’t come this morning.” Had she been ill, or – I wasn’t sure if my own condition was making me see things that weren’t there – was it morning sickness, and had she, like me, been expecting a child?
Visit Kate Riordan's website.

--Marshal Zeringue