She finds a rickety white bench, a little too close to the crumbling cliff edge. Pressing her bare feet down on the fine blades of grass, she shields her eyes with her hand and admires the cove below. It is like an illustration from a 1950s children’s book, lolly-shaped, nestled into jagged grey rocks, pristine and wild, its ruddy narrow beach path resisting easy access. She can imagine smugglers’ boats sliding onto the sand. She can imagine all sorts of things. It has an air about it, a sense of things having happened here.
Amber Alton and her siblings have the most wonderful life. Coming from a privileged family, they have the money and time to enjoy a care-free existence, spending every school holiday at the Alton’s delightful but crumbling country manor on the Cornish coast. Time slows almost to a halt in this blissful haven, and no one expects anything other than long dreamy days, lounging in and around the house. Yet, the unexpected happens – a stormy night brings a tragedy that will change it all, and have the most devastating effects on this perfect family.
What can I say about Black Rabbit Hall? It is a wonderful read, stunningly and beautifully written with subtle imagery that touches and enchants. There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s a heartbreaking story, but there’s so much love and courage in there that, in a way, it’s diluted. Motherly love and loss are strong themes, and there’s a bit of attachment parenting going on, which I adore. It took me quite a long time to read because of life’s priorities, and I feel my enjoyment of it could have been greatly enhanced if I had had the time and freedom to read it over long sittings. It has so much to offer – a big house in the country, family drama, mystery, suspense, twists and turns – and this deserves to be savoured.
A book such as Black Rabbit Hall is my go-to comfort read; the kind of book I read most of all. A novel told in a dual narrative, featuring a grand, or once grand, house, with a fragmented story to be pieced together and a historical mystery to be discovered – all intertwined with the cosy strands of British nostalgia. It lives up to expectations, and is guaranteed to satisfy, if you, like me, love this kind of big-house-full-of-secrets tale.