Set against the backdrop of three wars – the 1991 Gulf War, World War 2 and World War 1 – the novel follows the fortunes of three women who become involved with the Flint family, the owners of Echo Hall.
Phoebe Flint visits Echo Hall in 2014, where she follows in her mother’s footsteps to uncover the stories of a house ‘full of unhappy women, and bitter, angry men’.
Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall in 1990 – newlywed, pregnant, and uncertain of her relationship with her husband, Adam. Ghostly encounters, a locked door, and a set of photographs pique her curiosity. But Adam and his grandfather refuse to let her investigate. And her marriage is further strained, when Adam, a reservist, is called up to fight in the Gulf War.
In 1942, Elsie Flint is already living at Echo Hall with her children, the guest of her unsympathetic in-laws, whilst her husband Jack is away with the RAF. Her only friend is Jack’s cousin Daniel, but Daniel is hiding secrets, which when revealed could destroy their friendship for good.
Rachel and Leah Walters meet Jacob Flint at a dinner party in 1911. Whilst Leah is drawn to Jacob, Rachel rejects him leading to conflict with her sister that will reverberate through the generations.
As Ruth discovers the secrets of Echo Hall, she is able to finally bring peace to the Flint family, and in doing so, discover what she really needs and wants.
Echo Hall is a novel about the past, but it is very much a novel of the now. Does history always have to repeat itself, or can we find another way?
I am delighted to be taking part in this blog tour: thank you so much to Emma at Damp Pebbles for my spot, and to the author and publisher for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. As soon as I read the blurb, I knew I wanted to read this book – a multi-generational story with an intriguing setting and multiple timelines sounded right up my street. And indeed it was!
Echo Hall has an ambitious structure: the four timelines are nested like Russian dolls, so that we travel back in time to the furthest point in the past and then back out again until we return to Phoebe in the 21st century. It reminded me of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas – a bold narrative experiment that takes skill to handle. Fortunately Moffatt is more than equal to the task of balancing the many strands of her story, and this movement backwards and then forwards again is a lovely formal ‘echo’ of the themes of her book. The Hall itself is a gloomy, gothic-tinged beast, the perfect setting for a story which gradually reveals its dark secrets.
All of the characters are complex and well-drawn. I was most sympathetic to Elsie, Daniel and Rachel, but even the characters who perform some of the cruellest acts are given an opportunity to show different sides: there are no simple dichotomies of good and evil here. Rachel’s letters, which make up what I think of as the ‘heart’ of the novel, are wonderfully descriptive, painting a picture of the period while also showing the personal struggles she endures. The central theme of war, and the repeated moral tussle between pacifism and patriotism, is a really interesting hook, and the way in which the issue plays out in different generations shows how history cannot be confined to the past: its ripples affect us in the present.
I was intrigued by the touches of the paranormal in this novel, and for my own personal tastes, I wanted them to be explored further, although I can understand why Moffatt handles the hints of actual ghostly echoes with a light touch. On the whole, this book carried me along very pleasantly: despite its complex narrative structure, it is not a difficult read, and there is enough intrigue and mystery to keep the reader turning the pages until the very end. I would recommend Echo Hall to anyone who enjoys sweeping historical dramas and explorations of complex themes via a thoroughly absorbing story.
About the Author
Virginia Moffatt was born in London, one of eight children, several of whom are writers. ‘The Wave’ is her second novel. Her previous publications are ‘Echo Hall’ (Unbound) and ‘Rapture and what comes after’ (flash fiction collection published by Gumbo Press). She also writes non-fiction. Virginia is married to Chris Cole, Director of Drone Wars UK. They have two daughters at University and a son still living with them in Oxford.
Echo Hall was published in paperback, audio and digital formats by Unbound on 28th November 2017