This review is spoiler-free!
The truth can shatter everything… When the Harrington family discovers an abandoned baby deep in the woods, they decide to keep her a secret and raise her as their own. But within days a body is found in the grounds of their house and their perfect new family implodes. Years later, Sylvie, seeking answers to nagging questions about her life, is drawn into the wild beautiful woods where nothing is quite what it seems. Will she unearth the truth? And dare she reveal it?
The Glass House (also known as The Daughters of Foxcote Manor) is a lush, deeply descriptive novel about mothers and their daughters – about families and the age-old secrets they hold deep in the pits of their memories and their hearts. A suspenseful family mystery, with some elements of romance, this novel unravels in two distant (yet fundamentally connected) timelines. One is set in the summer of 1971: in the battered walls of Foxcote Manor, which rests in the picturesque Forest of Dean deep within the English countryside. The other is now, today, the present moment (which is whenever you may be reading it, really.) As Sylvie – a make-up artist and recently seperated mother-of-one – searches for answers to lifelong questions she finds herself in the same woods, in the Forest of Dean wondering what exactly happened in the August heat of 1971 and where she fits into it all.
In 1971, young Devon-born nanny Rita accompanies her employers – the Harrington family – to Foxcote Manor, where patriarch Walter has relegated his neurotic wife Jeannie, 13-year-old daughter Hera, and 6-year-old son Teddy to for the remainder of the summer, following a suspicious fire at their London home in Primrose Hill. Rita, affectionately called Big Rita by the family since she stands well over six foot, is fiercely loyal to the Harringtons – especially to the children, loving them like her own. Expecting a stressful, though rather uneventful summer, Rita and the Harringtons are in for a surprise when they find a baby, left with a note, among the wilderness of the forest. Rita’s attention is drawn elsewhere though, as she sparks a quaint, unsuspecting romance with forest local Robbie Rigby. And again, the summer proves fatally eventful as a body is found in the woods surrounding Foxcote…
In order to tell us this spiderweb of a story, and thus connect the past with the present, Chase has written this novel from alternating points of view in alternating points in times. We go back and forth between both Rita and Hera in 1971, and Sylvie now, but it is nowhere near as confusing as it may sound. Instead, Chase’s refusal to settle on a single protaganist and timeline greatly aids in the telling of this brilliant story. In conjunction with the detailed writing style, the reader gets a real sense of each character as an actual person – so much so that it feels easy to picture them. Chase’s writing is so incredibly descriptive that you almost feel immersed in the environments she writes about – you can envision the log pile near Foxcote Manor, its rusted gate, and the stream within the woods.
The plot twists in this novel are honestly very shocking at times, but yet in the most natural, almost expected way that still leaves you rather amazed and somewhat unsettled by the turn of events. As pieces of the past and present are slowly put together the bigger picture starts to make more and more sense with each turn of the page. Although many of the mysteries are solved by the novel’s end, there is one question left unanswered – one important stone left unturned and this does bother me slightly. Although this lack of a revelation is somewhat jarring, Chase remedies this with other monumental twists and turns – especially a rather big one toward the end of the novel.
The Glass House is a great, intricate tale about mothers and their daughters, husbands and their wives, daughters and their sisters, and what family really, truly means – and the lengths some will go to for their own. A sense of belonging is also incredibly central to this book, as Sylvie struggles to find what her role is in this decades-long conspiracy, and who she is at her core. For those looking for a wonderfully well-written, historic, slightly romantic tale about mother-daughter relationships, and how important it is to feel that you belong, this novel is an absolute must-read! It is reminiscent of The Family Upstairs – another great family mystery novel that seeks to unite the past with the present – by Lisa Jewell, the same Lisa Jewell that called this novel ‘riveting.’