This story could have been told in about two pages if only Grandmother Harriet had sat her granddaughter Grace down and told her the whole truth about her family. But then we wouldn’t have had a long, absorbing novel full of mysteries to be solved. There are three important dates in the lives of Harriet and Grace. In 1878 young Harriet, mourning the loss of her father and the family fortune, goes to Fenix House as governess to two little girls. She stays just the one summer but it changes her whole life. In 1910 a tragic railway accident on the Great Western line affects the life of every character in the book. In 1922 Grace, encouraged (almost forced) by her grandmother, also goes to Fenix House as a governess, where her charge is a difficult boy very reminiscent of Colin Craven from The Secret Garden. There are parallels between the relationships of each young woman with the head of the household. If you think there’s a touch of the Jane Eyres here, you’d be right.
This is Grace’s story. She’s been brought up on her grandmother’s reminiscences and feels she knows Fenix House before she gets there. Once arrived, she finds that Harriet’s tales were not entirely truthful. The narrative moves between 1878 and 1922 so that the truth about Harriet, the Pemberton family and Grace’s heritage is gradually revealed. Harriet loves Grace, yet she manipulates her to suit her own need to be reconciled to past events. She has what she calls 'glimmers', a sort of sixth sense. Unfortunately for everyone, these are never clear enough to prevent tragedy. In the end, it’s up to Grace to piece everything together and in my opinion she is very forgiving of the grandmother who left her to find out the truth for herself. If you like a rambling, cross-generation story set in a big old house, this is a very enjoyable book, although a little slow in places. I read it courtesy of Penguin Books via NetGalley.