Part ghost story, part novel of suspense The Marsh House is the haunting second novel from the author of The Night of the Flood where two women, separated by decades, are drawn together by one, mysterious house on the North Norfolk coast.
December, 1962. Desperate to create a happy Christmas for her young daughter, Franny, after a disastrous year, Malorie rents a remote house on the Norfolk coast. But once there, the strained silence between them feels louder than ever. As Malorie digs for decorations in the attic, she comes across the notebooks of the teenaged Rosemary, who lived in the house thirty years before. Trapped inside by a blizzard, and with long days and nights ahead of her, Malorie begins to read. Though she knows she needs to focus on the present, she finds herself inexorably drawn into the past…
July, 1931. Rosemary lives in the Marsh House with her austere father, surrounded by unspoken truths and rumours. So when the glamorous Lafferty family moves to the village, she succumbs easily to their charm. Dazzled by the beautiful Hilda and her dashing brother, Franklin, Rosemary fails to see the danger that lurks beneath their bright facades…
As Malorie reads Rosemary’s diary, past and present begin to merge in this moving story of mothers and daughters, family obligation and deeply buried secrets.
I was a huge fan of Zoe Somerville’s debut novel, The Night of the Flood, so I was delighted to be asked to join the blog tour for her second book. Thanks to Head of Zeus for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.
Like her first novel, which is also set in Norfolk, The Marsh House is dripping with atmosphere – the saline stench of the marsh; the encroaching weather that threatens to trap them in the house; a sense of menace folded into the landscape. In this story, the dual timeline adds an extra layer. As Malorie delves into the secrets hidden in the house, parallel lives slide into view, and I found myself captivated by both storylines.
Malorie’s escape from London, from her marriage, is hasty and unplanned, and at times there is a real sense of peril in her and her daughter’s isolation. The house does not feel like a sanctuary; rather, it throbs with a kind of sinister energy that at times seems to echo Malorie’s own unsteady state of mind, and at other times feels more supernatural. The writing reminded me of Rebecca Netley’s excellent novel The Whistling – both books expertly play with gothic conventions and elements of more traditional ghost stories while creating something new. It is writing that fully engages the senses, that holds you tightly in its icy grip.
Rosemary is also a fascinating character, and the chapters from her notebooks gradually reveal an intricate web of betrayals and tragedies. The author is so skilful in pulling back just at the moment of a reveal, leaving the reader as impatient as Malorie to find out what happens next. And, like Muriel in The Night of the Flood, there is a character who seems peripheral, but whose role slowly moves towards the centre: Janey, whose voice functions as a kind of chorus, and whose knowledge of folklore and tradition adds a richness, a sense of something elemental and raw.
This is writing that is both clever and thrilling: a tightly-plotted story that nevertheless leaves room for the reader to breathe, to make their own interpretations. I highly recommend getting your hands on The Marsh House and losing yourself within its richly drawn pages.
The Marsh House by Zoe Somerville is published by Head of Zeus and is available to purchase here.
Zoe’s first novel, The Night of the Flood, is now out in paperback here.
Zoe will be at Waterstone Norwich on Wednesday 23rd March talking with fellow author Polly Crosby – if you’re local, don’t miss it! Details here.