The House in the Orchard by Elizabeth Brooks (Fiction)

Plot: 2/5 Characters: 3/5 Writing: 3/5

A story within a story — in 1941 Peggy inherits the house in the orchard (in Cambridgeshire) from her husband’s Aunt Maude (her husband died in the war). Her rather difficult father-in-law (Maude’s brother Frank) hates the place and encourages her to sell. The bulk of the book is Peggy reading Maude’s diary (beginning in 1876) — a rather horrific tale of how Maude came to own the place.

I wanted to like this book — I love English historical fiction, and there was the potential for a good story. “Victorian era girl brought up to be proper in a home devoid of warmth makes good” is the story I wanted to read, but it was not to be. Instead I disliked her more and more until I thought I couldn’t dislike her any more (I was wrong). By the end, I had to ask myself what was the point of the book? What lesson should I have learned? Who was I supposed to empathize with? And was the story at all believable?

The story moved slowly, and there was a lot of description which I kind of skimmed over, but my main objection is the insidious way the story went downhill into darkness. Luckily (for me) it was not written in a melodramatic way, so I was able to finish the book with my emotional state intact, but I can’t say I gained any wisdom or enjoyment from reading it.

Thank you to Tin House and NetGalley for providing an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. The book will be published on September 27th, 2022.