Here is a story of obsession and passion, set in the hot summer of 1976 but harking back to 1913 when a bright young starlet moved from on stage magic and photographic model to the exciting world of silent movies. Brother and sister, Theo and Leda are struggling to run their father’s photographic studio after his sudden death when two exciting figures enter their life in the seaside town of “Brightland.” Ivor Davies, a dashing actor, briefly becomes their lodger and then Charles Beauvois, a film director entrances them with promises they can’t resist.
But Leda Grey has been forgotten until young journalist, Ed Peters, enters Theo’s shop more than 60 years later. Captivated by photographs of Leda and intrigued when Theo tells him that, “she hides herself away like a doomed princess in a fairy tale,” in a cliff top home with no electricity, he resolves to interview her and write her story.
At first this slow-moving tale failed to capture my interest but as Ed came under Leda’s spell, the atmospheric account of the sordid decay of the house and Leda’s haunting description of her time as muse and lover of Charles lead me to turn the pages rapidly to uncover the mystery of these tragic characters.
Readers of Essie’s earlier novels will recognise her rich, sensuous writing but this book has an added dimension in the psychology of Ed Peters and his struggles to resist a woman at the end of her life, who enters his fantasies and dreams.
The Pierced Heart continues the story of Lynn Shepherd’s flawed detective Charlie Maddox. Regretting his behaviour towards servant girl, Molly, he is haunted by her in his dreams which are not abated by a mission to Austria, where he finds himself in a strange castle deep in the Austrian countryside. As the plot progresses the actions of his host, Baron Von Reisenberg, take us to the Gothic world of Bram Stoker and Charlie begins to descend into madness.
For me this story came to life in Chapter 4, at the beginning of the journal of Lucy, in January 1851. Describing her travels in Paris and Vienna she is about to return to Whitby, a home she cannot remember. She recounts how she has assisted her father in deceiving audiences with phantasmagoria and how gradually her health has weakened. In the style of the books of Essie Fox and Wilkie Collins, Lucy’s plight worsens with each episode we read.
At times, the novel seems too gratuitous for me, but others will relish the descriptions of a series of violent murders of young women in London, 40 years before Jack the Ripper. This is an intense, captivating book to read and the ending, though not really a surprise, was very satisfying.
The Pierced Heart can be purchased on Amazon UK
is for Ekphrasis
Ekphrasis is the theme of my A to Z Challenge. It means responding to, or interpreting one form of Art in another form. So a poem may describe a painting or express the poet’s emotional response to it or a poem may inspire an artist to paint a picture. This is not the original Greek meaning of the word Ekphrasis but it has evolved into this usage.
E is also for Essie Fox. She has written books which respond to and interpret famous works of art. Essie’s debut novel The Somnambulist takes its title from the painting by Millais, showing a sleepwalker in a Victorian nightdress. Essie visited Bonhams when the painting was being auctioned.
According to Essie, “Apart from the usual allusions to Wilkie Collins’ novel The Woman in White, and the opera by Bellini which is called La Sonnambula, it seems that the painting was also inspired by Millais’ admiration for Symphony in White No 1: The White Girl by J. A. M. Whistler.”
Book Description of The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
When seventeen-year old Phoebe Turner visits Wilton’s Music Hall to watch her Aunt Cissy performing on stage, she risks the wrath of her mother Maud who marches with the Hallelujah Army, campaigning for all London theatres to close. While there, Phoebe is drawn to a stranger, the enigmatic Nathaniel Samuels who heralds dramatic changes in the lives of all three women. When offered the position of companion to Nathaniel’s reclusive wife, Phoebe leaves her life in London’s East End for Dinwood Court in Herefordshire — a house that may well be haunted and which holds the darkest of truths. In a gloriously gothic debut, Essie Fox weaves a spellbinding tale of guilt and deception, regret and lost love.
Link to list of other A to Z Challengers