Thursday 19 July 2018

Dark secrets surround a mysterious disappearance at the Manor

Fiction: The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde, Eve Chase, Michael Joseph, €18.19

Talented writer: Eve Chase
Talented writer: Eve Chase

Anne Marie Scanlon

Eve Chase's novel tells two stories which take in the same place, Applecote Manor, 60 years apart. In the modern narrative, Jess and Will have moved to Applecote, which is in need of much repair, in order to get Will's daughter Bella, away from London.

There has been some sort of 'incident' involving Bella, and Jess is worried that she is not just a typical moody teen but perhaps deeply malevolent.

The second narrative, which runs parallel to that of Jess, is set in the heatwave of August 1959. Four sisters have arrived from Chelsea (then a rackety part of town) to spend the remains of the summer with their aunt and uncle while their gadabout widowed mother takes off to Morocco.

The girls, Flora, Pam, Margot and Dot, have not seen their uncle Perry or Aunt Sybil for five years, not since their cousin Audrey went missing without trace at the age of 12.

In the modern narrative, Jess is left alone with her resentful stepdaughter Bella and her own toddler Romy.

Bella, who is in the room that was once Audrey's, has found out about her disappearance and quickly becomes obsessed by it. Jess is out of her depth and feels increasingly worried that Bella wants to recreate the vanishing using little Romy in the role of Audrey.

While the modern story is perfectly well executed, Dot's narrative is far more compelling.

Chase (right) is a talented writer and summons up an enchanted and enchanting environment - reminiscent of classic British children's literature - where the sisters, although somewhat worldly wise (due to their mother's turbulent love life and chronic lack of money), are still products of their time, naive about sex and relationships. When two handsome boys join them, sibling rivalry rears its head.

This is a study in manners and mannerisms. The girls are too young to begin to understand their aunt and uncle's grief - the pair are changed, physically and emotionally, almost beyond recognition. And, of course, in that very British way, nobody ever talks about what happened to Audrey.

From the prologue, the reader knows that something terrible happens at the end of the sisters' summer idyll and thus there is a pervading sense of dread in sharp juxtaposition to the carefree days of warmth and idleness.

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