Saturday 26 June 2021

Mrs England - Stacey Halls

Mrs England is a gripping feminist mystery where a nanny must travel to Yorkshire to a grand house filled with secrets. For there's no such thing as the perfect family...

'Something's not right here.'
I was aware of Mr Booth's eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. 'What do you mean?'
'In the house. With the family.'

West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there's something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.

Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the 'angel of the house' Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there's no such thing as the perfect family - and she should know.

Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls' third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.

What did I think?

I've been a fan of Stacey Halls since reading her debut, The Familiars, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy of her third novel, Mrs England.  As I've come to expect from Stacey Halls' novels, Mrs England is impeccably well-written and atmospheric although it's quite a slow-burner so it didn't grip me as much as her earlier novels.

Ruby May is a children's nurse and she's very unlucky in that she seems to gain position in households that end up moving overseas.  Ruby refuses to leave England so she finds a new position in West Yorkshire with the England family.  Both Ruby May and Mrs England are incredibly intriguing characters and they both have more layers (and secrets) than an onion.  I love that air of mystery surrounding a character and there's a real build up of suspense as the reader gradually peels back all the layers.

The whole novel feels dark and ominous with the tension gradually increasing as each page is turned.  I was completely transported to West Yorkshire through Stacey Halls' wonderfully vivid words and could easily visualise the factories, countryside and grand homes.  It's so cleverly written it feels as if layers of smoke have been woven into the prose, darkening scenery and distorting images so I was constantly wondering what was hiding beneath.

Beautifully written, incredibly atmospheric and surprisingly tense, Mrs England is an enthralling Edwardian mystery and another fabulous novel from Stacey Halls.

I chose to read a digital ARC received via NetGalley and this is my honest and unbiased opinion.

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