This story takes place in a forest and I could smell the humus rich soil, see the ferns, hear the rustlings of small mammals and imagine the blending of shadows and sunlight. In The Glass House by Eve Chase, the mysterious happenings in a forest have ramifications across the decades. Shame, deceit, secrets and love are bound-up together in a group of people whose lives are coloured forever by what happened in the Forest of Dean in 1971.
When nanny Big Rita drives her boss’s wife, Jeannie Harrington and Jeannie’s two children Hera and Freddy to their country house in the West of England, they enter a different world. Leaving behind Jeannie’s husband Walter at their sugar-white stucco house in Primrose Hill, and her own unhappy memories, Rita is cautious about the mysterious forest with its rustling noises and the feeling of being watched. She spends every hour with the children while Jeannie, recovering after the loss of a baby, spends her time in bed. And then Hera finds a baby girl abandoned in the woods. This is the catalyst for a number of things happening at once, things that upset the status quo and challenge Rita’s place in the Harrington family and what she wants for her own life. Most disturbing to her equilibrium is local woodsman Robbie Rigby.
The second timeline is set now and is told by Sylvie who has just left her husband and moved into a flat beside a canal in Kensal Town. Sylvie is taking time to find her feet away from husband Steve and teenage daughter Annie who is staying with her grandmother beside the sea in Devon. But two incidents quickly challenge Sylvie’s perceptions about what actually matters to her.
And there is a delicious hint in the short Prologue – a report in a Gloucestershire newspaper in 1971 about a body found in the forest near Foxcote Manor.
I found the structure slightly messy with varying pace which at times was rather slow. I was longing for some connections to be made so the story could move on. Looking back at my review of Chase’s The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, I made a similar comment. The last scenes seemed to tie up loose ends rather too quickly and neatly in comparison with the earlier speed of the story, but that’s just my personal preference. Eve Chase writes a great sense of place; Foxcote Manor seems a real house set in a real forest.
As Robbie explains to Rita, ‘when a giant tree crashes down in a forest, light and air rush into the cleared space, dormant seeds flower, and new life scrambles up, taking its chance.’ That’s basically what happens to the people in The Glass House.
Incidentally, the glass house mentioned in the title, and featured on the lovely cover, refers to a terrarium. Rita owns one in 1971 and her care of the plants living in it – she gives them names – mirrors her care of the two children, but also symbolises the fragility and transparency of the lives of the Harrington family at Foxcote Manor.
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