REVIEW: LARKSWOOD BY VALERIE MENDES

LARKSWOOD

Author: Valerie Mendes
Orion Fiction RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan

“A sweeping historical novel that spans three generations, telling the dark secrets of a family torn apart.” So said the publicity material for Larkswood by Valerie Mendez, and of course, that was enough to make me want to read it. The cover is also appealing to me – what secrets lie behind that window? With the promise of melodrama and intrigue, I settled down with this book, hoping for a read that left me content and as much in love with reading as ever.

Using the popular dual time period/narrator device, Larkswood alternates between the stories of Harriet and her siblings in 1896, and Louisa, the grand-daughter of Harriet’s brother. It starts in typical fashion – a young girl, running through the woods in an attempt to conceal a secret, worried that someone will see her and questions will be asked. She’s burying a baby … but whose is it? The reader soon realises that Cynthia, Harriet’s elder sister, has given birth to a stillborn child while their parents are away. Until now, the Hamilton siblings have enjoyed a privileged existence, albeit with disinterested parents; the birth of this child, means change to all they know.

More than 40 years later, new debutante Louisa Hamilton is sent to Larkswood to recuperate from glandular fever. Her grandfather, fresh from years in India, agrees to let her stay, and Louisa soon comes to enjoy country life. As romance blossoms between Louisa and the young, handsome gardener, she becomes aware that the house is shrouded in mystery, and no one wants to talk about it. Questioning her grandfather leads her nowhere, so she takes matters into her own hands. But at what cost? Can the wounds of the past ever be healed?

As I read Larkswood, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the Flowers in the Attic series, and while I liked that as a teenager, as an adult I have a rather different response to that series. Readers familiar with the V.C. Andrews series may have an inkling of what I’m alluding to, but for those not, I won’t spoil it here. What I will say is that I felt like the actions of certain characters were condoned, with the reader manipulated into feeling sorry for them because their parents were so self-absorbed. Sorry, that didn’t sit right with me. Nor did the parents’ response, which was reprehensible, but that fit more with the darkness the novel was aiming for.

On the whole, I found myself a bit underwhelmed by this book; something about it just didn’t work for me in the way I’d hoped … and this was before the deep, dark secret was revealed (and there were plenty of hints, so it was no big surprise). I really wanted to love this because it had many of the elements I adore in novels (although the house was less of a “character” than is usual in this genre), but I had a hard time maintaining interest towards the end. It started with such promise, but I’m afraid I didn’t feel it delivered the punch I hoped for. I also felt that the romance between Louisa and the gardener needed more work to make me feel it.

If you like this genre, don’t be afraid to give Larkswood a go – there are some very positive reviews on Goodreads (as well a s a few that express a similar dissatisfaction to mine). It may not have struck a chord for me, but it may for you.

Available from good bookstores and Hachette Australia. This copy was courtesy of Hachette Australia.

Bookish treat: If I liked cucumber sandwiches, they would be a classy way to go … but I’d rather have honey on fresh bread with butter. One of my guiltiest treats.