Posted in Netgalley

The Safe Place by Anna Downes.

#TheSafePlace #HodderandStoughton #NetGalley

Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks

Date: 20th August 2020

ISBN: 1529375096

Emily Proudman’s life is imploding. She’s lost her acting agent, job and home all in one day. Scott Denny also has a problem, one he doesn’t think he can fix. He is a wealthy and successful CEO but neither of these things can help him. Then he meets Emily and she is perfect. He takes her on for a summer job, as housekeeper for his rambling estate in the South of France. Emily thinks she has fallen on her feet and charmed by his wife Nina, and their unusual daughter Aurelia, she throws herself into her summer role. Yet all is not what it seems. The family have dark secrets and

if Emily doesn’t play her part, the summer and even her life could be in danger.

Nina is keen to have Emily there, so greets her enthusiastically when she arrives. The mansion is eerie but then so is Nina, who seems to be a quiet and obedient wife. Aurelia is more of a shock. She’s shy to the point of introversion, but that could be down to living in such a remote location. Communication with others seems to be frowned upon as there’s no phone line or internet connection. What if something goes wrong out here? Emily tries to use her time well in looking after Aurelia and even turning her hand to a bit of renovation, but she feels herself becoming little more than a companion to Nina, sometimes losing whole days drinking wine by the pool. Aurelia is difficult to get to know, she flinches if touched possibly down to the rare skin disease she has, but it felt more like she simply wasn’t used to physical affection. Her silence could be shyness, but Emily starts to feel that there is something odd about this girl and the problems she has.

This is a modern Gothic novel, with definite shades of Jane Eyre – the remote mansion, the stepdaughter, a slightly odd wife and a new, young housekeeper/governess. However, instead of the usual first person narration we get multiple narratives but how many of them are reliable? The cover jumped out at me, making me long for sunnier climates and a chance to explore – something that’s even more of a fantasy at the moment! I think the reader is lulled into this holiday feeling, alongside Emily. We know something is wrong here, so does Emily, but working it out, when instead you could lie by the pool with a cold cocktail and a good book, seems unnecessary. When the secrets are finally exposed, Emily might find it’s too late. The characters have more depth than appears at first. Although Nina might seem like the perfect rich man’s wife, there is something else going on underneath. There’s a brittle edge to her character that allows us to glimpse her fragile mental health. Even Emily, turns out to be more intelligent and resourceful than I gave her credit for at first.

When the secrets of Scott Denny and his estate are revealed weren’t too much of a shock. This isn’t one of those twists that makes you rethink the whole book, but nor did it disappoint. Scott reminded me of the estate owner in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw – working away a lot, only briefly at the estate and even then doesn’t really engage with his wife or stepdaughter. Furthermore, when it’s mentioned that Emily has briefly worked for Scott before I wondered whether their meeting was a coincidence or whether it was calculated. Perhaps Emily is the perfect person for this role? I think this was a great beach read and shows great promise for a debut author. I will be looking out for her future work.


Hello, I am Hayley and I run Lotus Writing Therapy and The Lotus Readers blog. I am a counsellor, workshop facilitator and avid reader.

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