I simply loved this book. In fact, a finished copy arrived through the post and I started browsing the first page then couldn’t stop reading. So I read it straight through, finishing at 2am. It’s a split timeline story, beginning with Malorie and her daughter deciding to spend Christmas in a cottage on the Norfolk coast after an argument with her boyfriend. Malorie feels like a bad mother and wants to get one thing right – an idyllic holiday cottage Christmas for her daughter. Maybe if she achieves this one thing, she can convince herself she’s not as useless as she imagines. The sense of foreboding hits the reader immediately as the weather promises snow and Malorie becomes disoriented in the fog. She skids and ends up wedged into a hedge. The Marsh House itself is damp, dark and neglected. They cannot even see the sea through the mist. Malorie begins to wonder if this is a bad idea, but finds a pair of journals in the attic while searching for Christmas decorations, and she begins to read. Written by a young woman called Rosemary, who lived in the house, the journals tell a tale of a young woman’s crush on the boy from the big house. This young woman’s story paints a picture of 1930’s rural Norfolk, becoming a young mum and her husband’s link to fascism and Oswald Moseley in particular. Malorie can’t put the journals down, but alongside the house’s strange atmosphere, they are having an effect on her sleep and her state of mind.
I felt for Malorie straight away and her sprite of a daughter. Malorie is very hard on herself and has a negative inner voice, not helped by an over critical partner at home. Here she is capable, ordering logs and a turkey, rigging up a Christmas tree with vintage ornaments from the loft, and even managing real candles in their holders. However, even when she’s barely started the journals, the locals are giving her the house’s sordid history. That whiff of fascism becomes stronger when Malorie finds leaflets in the attic and the girl in the village shop asks if she knows what happened at The Marsh House? Tales of lost cocklers cut off by the tide that can still be heard screaming in the fog don’t help her state of mind. The house itself holds some scary relics too including a weird picture of women who perhaps lived here, one with bright green eyes that bore into you. I loved how the author drip fed these little bits of information, adding to the house’s history but also to the creepy tension that keeps building. It’s Malorie’s kinship with Rosemary, the writer of the journals, that drives the story forwards. The more she understands about the writer’s life, the more confused she becomes between fantasy and reality leading to some truly terrifying visions in the night. Why does she feel so connected with someone she’s never met who lived here thirty years before? Who is the strange woman with the large dog she sees from time to time, and why does she seem to be looking after the family by leaving logs to keep them warm?
I did enjoy Rosemary’s story too, her innocent crush on the boy from the family at the big house. She fantasises about what it would be like to have him like her too, to kiss her on the cheek and choose her above the more well to do girls in society. There does seem to be a part of him that is attracted to Rose, but she might also suit his purposes – a compliant country wife at home to keep the line going while he gallivants in London with Moseley’s social circle. Having read a bit about the Mitford sisters and Unity in particular, I had already known how popular fascism was in the ranks of the aristocracy and how some of our great country houses were used as meeting places for talks on appeasing Hitler. I hadn’t known of it’s hold in Norfolk and found this aspect of the book interesting. As time goes on and Rosemary is treated very badly by her husband it was clear that something terrible was going to happen, but the final revelations are truly shocking. I loved the way she delved into the complicated, emotional experience of becoming a mother. She opens up the inner world of these women, with their constant questioning of whether they’re good enough, or are they failing at this job we’re led to believe should come naturally? There is a special skill in weaving real historical events with fiction and this author is so talented and creative. She brings this area of England to life and makes the reader want to visit and search it out for themselves. The atmosphere was so evocative I spent two days with a ‘book hangover’ – unable to start another book because my emotions and senses were so embedded in Malorie’s story. I loved this so much I could have happily gone back to the first page and read it over again.
Published by Apollo 3rd March 2022
Meet The Author
Zoë Somerville is originally from Norfolk, but has settled with her husband and children in the West Country. She works as an English teacher. Zoë began her debut novel, The Night of the Flood on the Bath Spa Creative Writing MA in 2016. It was published in September 2020. Her second novel, The Marsh House, a ghost story and mystery is published in March 2022. She is currently writing her third novel.