With her second novel, Amy Lukavics has set the scene for a delicious Gothic story. In an isolated Victorian mansion lives Lucy Acosta, with her father, her cousin, Margaret, and her aunt and Margaret’s mother, Penelope. Lucy’s mother died when she was three. Ever since then her aunt Penelope has been looking after the household. That is, until she walks into the woods one night and vanishes into thin air. Soon after, Margaret starts hearing voices in the walls and behaving erratically. Lucy, who is unable to enlist the help of her distant father, is at a loss as she watches her family unravel.
I’m obsessed with Gothic stories so I was excited to jump into this one. The setting is adequately creepy. Lucy’s grand, gaping home hints of uneasy secrets. She wanders through its yawning hallways in confused circles. The family live in semi-isolation on the outskirts of town, which increases the sense of urgency and vulnerability.
The mystery at the centre was also gripping. The book opens with the death of the family butler, and Penelope going missing. Through all this Lucy’s father remains vague and unhelpful, which only heaps suspicion on him. Added into the mix are the voices in the walls, and their history. It all made for an intriguing narrative, and I found myself flipping the pages in eager curiosity to reach the big reveal. Unfortunately, the big reveal did not live up to the big set-up.
The book harks back to the Gothic classics. The title evokes memories of The Yellow Wallpaper, in which the main character envisions a woman trapped in her wallpaper. The great isolated house reminded me of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. The relationship between Lucy and Margaret, a close connection that no one else is allowed to infiltrate, is similar to the sisters from another Shirley Jackson novel, We Have Always Lived in the Castle.
Unfortunately, the novel’s descent into Hollywood-like melodrama steals all of the Gothic winds from its sails. While its setting follows the creepy template, many of the actual occurrences in the story did affect me. The author spent too much time telling me I should feel uneasy, instead of actually making me feel so. The story could have benefited from being more subtle in the second half.
Lucy’s character development was also rather unrealistic. She undergoes significant changes near the end,which felt too sudden and abrupt. The author could have paved the way for this much earlier.
I think some of my disappointment lies on my shoulders. I’d placed too much expectation on the novel, simply due to my excitement regarding it association with other Gothic titles.
Lukavics presents an interesting premise, with an emotive setting and points of intrigue. However, the character and plot development leave a lot to be desired, and much of the initial set-up is lost in the overly melodramatic ending.