Lockwood Manor has four floors, and ninety-two rooms. Many of these rooms are empty and unused,
“Lockwood had too many empty rooms. They sat there, hushed and gaping, waiting for my mind to fill them with horrors – spectres and shadows and strange creeping creatures”.
With the threat of London being bombed by Germany, the taxidermied animals, many quite rare, are being evacuated from the natural history museum. The mammals are to be kept at Lockwood Manor. Hetty Cartwright, in the role of assistant keeper, is to look after them.
In 1939, it is still very much a man’s world, and Hetty would not normally have been given the position. However, most of the men have been conscripted for the war and Hetty has the qualifications and experience, if not the gender.
Hetty, an orphan, was adopted at a young age. A “replacement” for the three sons that her parents had lost in the Boer war. She has always felt that she was a disappointment to her parents, especially her mother. Even making it into Oxford University was not an achievement for her mother, not compered to finding a husband.
“When your father and I allowed you to remain at university it was with the understanding that you at least find yourself a husband, however meagre his standing might be. I shall hear nothing more of this nonsense. Call me when you are engaged”.
Lucy is the daughter of Major Lockwood the owner of the manor. And in his words, is a delicate, anxious girl, prone to nightmares in her childhood, nightmares that have returned with the car accident that killed her mother and grandmother.
Hetty and Lucy although having nothing in common, and coming from completely different worlds, strike up an unexpected and strong friendship almost immediately, a friendship; or something more?
Not long after arriving at the manor, Hetty finds a bewildering, and to Hetty at least, alarming sight. In the drawing room an old worn kitchen knife has been stabbed at least an inch deep into a side table. Hetty is quite perplexed by the knife.
Large, almost empty, manors, are always conducive to a “spooky” atmosphere and that is most definitely the case with Lockwood Manor. It almost seems an unwritten law that there must be a haunted room and with Lockwood it is the purple room. A maid tells Hetty that the room is cursed and that guests who have slept in the room have heard strange sounds in the night. To make matters worse Hetty is the only person staying in the entire east wing of the manor.
The perspective will change from Hetty to Lucy, and this will become a regular occurrence. Most of Lucy’s chapters involve Lucy pondering her childhood and upbringing, which we find was quite horrid, her mother traipsing the line between sanity and insanity like a tightrope. From Lucy’s perspective we learn why she is the way she is. The reader will find that things are much darker than they seem. The devil woman, spirits, hauntings, all part of the family’s curse according to Lucy’s dead mother.
Throughout the novel the reader is constantly reminded, of the spirit, the ghost of the woman in white. The ghost who haunted and hounded Lucy’s mother. The existence of the shade a question asked repeatedly but never answered. Healy leaves the reader in the dark, adding to the atmosphere. Is the ghost real; or simply the delusions of a woman slipping deeper into madness?
Upon finding out about these hauntings and spirits, Hetty starts to have nightmares in which a beast of unknown origin is chasing her through the manor. Sometimes it is not a beast at all but a woman with the claws of a beast. Is this the woman in white?
Then the animals start to disappear. First a jaguar goes missing, nowhere to be found in the sprawling manor. A few days later some hummingbirds are gone the glass to their cabinet smashed. But things will soon get worse.
Another novel that does not feel like a debut. The writing is excellent and provides the right touch of atmosphere and description. This is a wonderfully haunted, spooky tale, and I feel that fans of authors such as Laura Purcell will enjoy this novel. I know I will be looking for other books by this author.
A book to read on a cold stormy night. Is that the start of rain pattering on the window? It sounded more like somebody’s fingers tapping. 4 scary stars.
Jane Healey was named after Jane Eyre but, growing up in a Victorian farmhouse that was rumoured to be haunted, was initially too frightened of the ghost in the red-room to read past the second chapter. She returned to it – successfully – during her English Literature degree at Warwick University and later wrote her MSc dissertation at Edinburgh University on ghosts, mothers, and libraries as Bluebeard's chambers in Jane Eyre and its literary descendants.
She subsequently studied on the MFA Fiction programme at CUNY Brooklyn College and has been shortlisted for the Bristol Short Story Prize 2013, the Costa Short Story Award 2014, the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2016 and the Penguin Random House WriteNow mentoring programme 2017.
The Animals at Lockwood Manor is her first novel. She currently lives in Edinburgh.
Here is a link to Tea and Tattle where there is a wonderful podcast of Healey talking about her book. - https://www.teaandtattlepodcast.com/home/131