Title: The Whispering House
Author: Elizabeth Brooks
Publisher: Double Day
Date of Publication: August 6th 2020
Number of pages: 352
Freya Lyell is struggling to move on from her sister Stella’s suicide five years ago. Visiting the bewitching Byrne Hall, only a few miles from the scene of the tragedy, she discovers a portrait of Stella – a portrait she had no idea existed, in a house Stella never set foot in. Or so she thought.
Driven to find out more about her sister’s secrets, Freya is drawn into the world of Byrne Hall and its owners: charismatic artist Cory and his sinister, watchful mother. But as Freya’s relationship with Cory crosses the line into obsession, the darkness behind the locked doors of Byrne Hall threatens to spill out.
Freya escapes a claustrophobic garden party by stepping past a STRICTLY PRIVATE notice and entering Byrne Hall. The last thing she expects to find there is an eerily
The hall was as black as I’d desired it to be. I opened the door wide and took a few cautious
steps. Shapes and tones materialised slowly: the curling hulk of a staircase; closed doors to
my left and right; a tiled floor like a chess-board, with alternating squares of black and white.
I was glad I’d taken my shoes off, because it meant I could walk across the cold floor without
making much noise. The chiffon made the merest swishing sound against my legs as I stepped from black tile to black tile, avoiding the white ones in case my feet left grubby
marks. I felt like a ghost, empty and silent in my long, pale dress, at ease with the darkness.
Daylight began picking things out here and there and making them gleam: the moulded
leaves and apples on a gold picture frame; the brass studs on an armchair; the ribs of a plastic water bottle. I picked up the bottle and sat down on the chair, tipsy enough to feel that I wasn’t trespassing; that I was expected; that these things had been put out ready for me. The armchair creaked as I settled, and the upholstery prickled through my dress and all along the backs of my thighs. I unscrewed the bottle, tipping my head right back and filling my mouth, till the water brimmed over and trickled down my neck.
The picture with the gold frame was directly in front of me, and I leaned forwards to
look at it, but the light from outside was wrong – too yellow, too lush – and all I could make
out was a flat surface covered by a network of shiny lines, like a tray of brittle toffee that’s
been tapped with a hammer. I tilted my head woozily and wondered what sort of picture it
was. Not that I was vastly curious. If the chair had been comfier I might not have bothered
getting up, but the backs of my legs were starting to itch.
It must, I decided, be some kind of collage, with hundreds of tiny bits of paper fitted
together and stuck down on a board. When I ran my fingers over the surface I realised that
the shiny lines I’d noticed from the chair were made of dried glue. Whether it was an abstract arrangement, or whether the fragments came together as a coherent image, it was too dark to tell, but there was a spotlight on the wall above the frame and I could just about reach the switch.
An electric hum, a quiver of light, then everything steadied and I found myself standing
in front of a three-quarter-length portrait. I didn’t gasp or cover my mouth with my hands. It
wasn’t like that. Recognition crept up on me doubtfully, bit by bit, and even before the bulb popped and the picture flashed back into darkness, I couldn’t make up my mind whether this was a portrait of my dead sister or just a picture of a girl with red hair whom I was naturally inclined – given the circumstances, and at least four glasses of wine – to identify as her.
It wasn’t a particularly good portrait, whoever the subject might be. I mean, it was all right. Seven out of ten, B plus, averagely competent. In terms of symmetry and proportion it was fine, but as a whole it lacked vitality. The eyes were large, lustreless almonds, the nose was minimal, the lips were over-ripe and over-pink. It was an adolescent picture. An unimaginative man’s idea of what a pretty woman amounted to: no greater than the sum of
her parts, and perhaps a little less. I looked for the hands – Stella used to have long, tapering
fingers with blunt, square nails – but there was a gap, a glaring absence on her lap, where
they ought to be.
The light went out with a waspish buzz and I was left in the dark, recollecting the picture as best I could; poring over the after-image on my retinas. There wasn’t a single feature that proved it was her, yet I reached out and touched the surface, running my fingers over its uneven scraps and torn edges. I liked the ripped-up effect; I liked the way those fissures and the seeping of glue caught the light in odd ways and gave the picture a mystery it otherwise lacked. It supplied the dull-eyed girl with something like a soul; distancing her from the world, as if she were observing us all through a coarse-grained veil.
What do you think? It sounds so mysterious! I can’t wait to read it! I was so sad not to be able to squeeze it into this month’s reads, but you can expect a review soon!
Grab your copy here!
Thank you to the publisher and Isabella for inviting me to be part of the blog tour.
ELIZABETH BROOKS grew up in Chester, and read Classics at Cambridge.
Her debut novel CALL OF THE CURLEW was shortlisted for the Waverton Good Reads award. The setting for her new novel, THE WHISPERING HOUSE, is a manor house named Byrne Hall and is inspired by the home of Agatha Christie. It is full of dark corners and old portraits that carry untold stories of their subjects.
Elizabeth Brooks lives on the Isle of Man with her husband and children.