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The Midnight House by Amanda Geard

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | Historical Fiction
The Midnight House by Amanda Geard

By Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

‘Across the dark, slick surface of Lough Atoon, Blackwater Hall hove into view. It was less grand than she remembered, but handsome enough – not quite a pile; more sprawling than imposing. Thick ivy covered the walls, and its blue slate roof was scattered with a dozen chimney pots. Three rows of white sash windows – some of them open against the warm evening – peppered the front elevation. French doors led directly on to a sloping lawn that ran a hundred yards to the reedy edge of the lough.’

The Midnight House by Amanda Geard is published with Headline Review and is described as ‘an unforgettable and spellbinding story of secrets, war, love and sacrifice’. I am absolutely delighted to bring you all my review today for this quite astonishing debut novel that completely captured my attention.

Here is a simple fact – I love historical fiction and always have. There is something very fascinating about being taken on a journey back to a time when society held different beliefs and expectations and in The Midnight House Amanda Geard does this extraordinarily well. What makes it even more extraordinary is that Amanda Geard is Tasmanian born, a blow-in to Ireland, settling in Co. Kerry on the west coast of Ireland, a number of years back. The Midnight House is set primarily in Co. Kerry and Amanda Geard’s grasp of the Irish way of life, both past and present is really impressive. Also we do visit London during the Blitz which is depicted with a great sense of anguish and desperation adding to the authenticity of the story.

The Rathmore estate, Blackwater Hall, is situated near the beautiful and extremely scenic Kenmare Bay in Co. Kerry. Since the 1790s the house has been home to generations of the Rathmore family, some more generous to their tenants than others. In the 1940s it was the home of Charles Rathmore and his wife Niamh. They lived there with their three children, Hugo, Theodore (Teddy) and Charlotte. It was a time of great change in society overshadowed by the Second World War, particularly for women. Charlotte wanted to embrace this new world and to live independently of her family’s wealth and all it encompassed but her family had very different ideas for her. In 1940 tragedy struck Blackwater Hall when Charlotte suddenly disappeared. No trace left but a shattered pearl necklace near the lake and traces of blood on an oar. Initially the IRA are blamed but with no obvious reason, and no evidence to the contrary, no arrests were made. Over time the case was left cold, the truth never revealed.

It’s 2019 and Ellie Fitzgerald returns to her home village in Kerry, a journalist in disgrace. Moving back in with her mother is her only option as she tries to gather her thoughts but Ellie is embarrassed and is wary of bumping into old school friends and acquaintances. She ventures into a local charity shop, where a buddy of her mother works, leaving with a box of books under her arm. Later that evening as she casually looks through the books as a distraction from her disturbed thoughts, she comes upon a letter, one written in 1940. Clearly the letter doesn’t belong to Ellie and with no intention of invoking any of her journalistic skills, Ellie makes a fast and simple decision to return the letter to where it obviously belongs, Blackwater Hall.

With no initial motivation to dig deeper, Ellie soon, unwittingly, finds herself caught up in a mystery that appears to gather momentum. When the dots begin to join up Ellie becomes engrossed and a little obsessed to finally uncover the truth behind an age-old enigma surrounding the Rathmore family.

Ellie Fitzgerald is a wonderful character. When she arrives home she is clearly hurting but Ellie was born and bred in Kerry and, once she relaxes a little back into her roots, she is quite surprised by how quickly she is accepted back into the community. As Ellie uncovers each piece of the past, the chapters unfold, transporting the reader back to the 1940’s and 1950’s. The Rathmore family is one with many secrets. There is a veil of sadness hanging over them that has shadowed generations for years. Is it time for the truth to out and for peace to finally descend on this troubled family? Mixing Ellie’s personal present-day predicament with the past creates an enthralling story that is extremely engaging at all times.

I must of course mention the cover of The Midnight House which immediately catches the attention. What secrets lie on the other side of that keyhole? The colours are warm and very inviting, leading the reader right into the story with an imaginary key and a desire to uncover the truth.

The Midnight House is a completely immersive experience. Amanda Geard has spun a breath-taking story with multiple threads and outstanding characters. The different eras are seamlessly interwoven as the reader jumps between 1940, 1958 and 2019. Amanda Geard was inspired by ‘the rugged landscape and rich history of Co. Kerry’, and this is very much evident in the stunning and very vivid descriptions depicted throughout.

“Here on the westernmost fringe of Europe, where jagged fingers of purple sandstone plunge dramatically into the angry froth of sea, both my story and I found a home…And this wild landscape, part tamed by generations of rough hands, is the perfect mirror in which communities like this can view themselves: vast histories stretching back generations, their imprints left on the land.” – Amanda Geard

The Midnight House by Amanda GeardThe Midnight House is packed full with intrigue and sumptuous descriptions. Enchanting, enveloping and cleverly written, The Midnight House is the perfect read for all fans of historical fiction. It has all the ingredients you could possibly need, with a sprinkling of Kerry magic on top of a tightly woven mystery.

(c) Mairéad Hearne (Swirl and Thread)

Order your copy online here.

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