The Peacock House by Kate Glanville
A large house set in the Welsh countryside, several deep mysteries about its past, and an eccentric woman living there alone – this novel has all the ingredients of a gripping story. Evelyn is the older woman, whose life is so wrapped up with the history of Vaughan Court that the two seem inseparable. When a young woman, Bethan, arrives, her presence suddenly becomes necessary; partly because for the first time in years Evelyn needs help, and partly because her grandmother was Evelyn’s greatest friend in the past. This is a book for secrets, family and love that was not always a positive force in life. Full of revelations and readjustments, Evelyn is to discover that secrets can be many edged swords, even in a quiet and peaceful setting.
It is the setting that almost becomes another character in this well written book which flows so well. We see Vaughan Court at various times; in its twenty-first century incarnation as Behan first sees it, shabby and with obvious breakages and losses in its formerly grand facade. It is also described in its progress throughout the Second World War, where its grim aspect is presented to another young woman, and later where part of the renowned gardens are taken over by a selection of huts for military purposes. There will be secret parts of the estate which challenge some memories, but also confuse a small girl trying to cope with her own situation. Always there are the peacocks, noisy, disruptive and putting on a significant display, ever present. The characters that Glanville creates in this book are memorable for the right reasons, all with memories and inconsistencies, especially Evelyn who harbours secret fears and regrets, resentments and so much more. Bethan, with her own emotional issues, becomes the catalyst for much of the action as she innocently tries to interview the older woman for a magazine. The dialogue that the two have, as well as with Tom the local doctor, is so realistic and in this Glanville shows a real ear for how people express themselves.
The author is also very good at using clothes to say so much about the character and their current preoccupations. I found Bethan’s fascination with the vintage pieces that she finds stored in the house endearing; in one classic skirt she becomes a little girl once more – desperate to twirl around. This book is so good at creating these moments, these small secrets that enliven the narrative and add greatly to the overall sense of its style.
This is a book that contains so many threads of stories and memories that it is a truly lovely read. The menacing presence of mountains and the natural surroundings to the estate where metallic items have almost been subsumed into the earth, the nightly disturbances of breakages and damage, the way that the characters interact are all so skillfully achieved without padding and unnecessary detail. There is a lot of research here into the effects of the War even on relatively secluded places, the contrast with the much bombed London, the presence of Americans in the latter part of the War, yet the information is blended in and never allowed to interrupt the narrative. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this enjoyable book, and recommend it to anyone who enjoys a far reaching story of love and life with more than a hint of romance.