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The BookBrowse Review

Published September 20, 2017

ISSN: 1930-0018

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Black Rabbit Hall
Black Rabbit Hall
by Eve Chase

Paperback (4 Jul 2017), 400 pages.
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
ISBN-13: 9781101983157
BookBrowse:
Critics:
  

For fans of Kate Morton and Sarah Waters, here's a magnetic debut novel of wrenching family secrets, forbidden love, and heartbreaking loss housed within the grand gothic manor of Black Rabbit Hall.

Ghosts are everywhere, not just the ghost of Momma in the woods, but ghosts of us too, what we used to be like in those long summers ...

Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family's country estate, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, of course, it does.

More than three decades later, Lorna is determined to be married within the grand, ivy-covered walls of Pencraw Hall, known as Black Rabbit Hall among the locals. But as she's drawn deeper into the overgrown grounds, half-buried memories of her mother begin to surface and Lorna soon finds herself ensnared within the manor's labyrinthine history, overcome with an insatiable need for answers about her own past and that of the once-happy family whose memory still haunts the estate.

Stunning and atmospheric, this debut novel is a thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by the dark and tangled secrets of Black Rabbit Hall.

AMBER
Last day of the summer holidays, 1969, Cornwall

I feel safe on the cliff ledge, safer than in the  house, anyway. Afew feet  from  the  coast  path, it's a twenty-minute scramble  from  the edge of the estate, far enough  from  Black Rabbit Hall's watching win­ dows, a secret  place. I hover on the cliff above it for a moment or two, wind snapping my dress against my legs, soles of my feet tingling, then lower myself carefully,  gripping the clumps of grass, sea roaring in my ears.   (Best  not  to  look  down.) One small  heart-stop drop and  I'm perching right  on the edge of sky. Jump too wide, it's all over. I wouldn't do it. But it occurs to me that I like the fact I could. That I have some control over my destiny today. 

Pressed  against  the  cliff wall,  I finally catch  my breath. So much frantic searching: woods,  rooms, endless  stairs.  Heels  rubbed raw in too-small tennis shoes.  And   I  still  haven't  found them. Where are they? Shading my eyes from  the sky dazzle  with  my hand, I scan the bottle-green cliff  tops  on the  other side of the  cove. Deserted. Only cattle in the fields. I inch  down then, spine  against the  rock, and  hitch  up  my dress, brazenly,  so that  air tunnels through my bare bent legs. 

Still  at last,  I can't  outrun the  events  of the  day any longer.  Even the  sound  of the  waves on  the  rocks  makes  my slapped cheek  sting afresh.  I blink and  there  is the house, silhouetted on the inside  of my eyelids. So I try to keep my eyes open and let my mind loose in the vast pink sky, where the sun  and moon  hang like a question and an answer.  Iforget  that  Iam  meant  to  be searching. That minutes move faster  than clouds at dusk. I think only of my own escape. I don't know  how long I sit there, my thoughts pierced  by a huge black bird diving  over the  cliff, so close its talons might  catch  in  my hair. Iinstinctively duck  in its wing draft, nose meeting the cool skin of my knees.  And  when  I look up my gaze is no longer  on the sky but on flotsam bob bing on the high tide swell below.

No, not flotsam. Something more alive. A dolphin? Or those  jelly­ fish that  have been washing up in our cove all week, like a lost cargo of gray glass bowls? Maybe. I lean forward, dipping my face over the edge to get a better view, hair  blowing  wildly, heart  beating a little  faster, starting to sense something terrible shifting just below the shimmer­ ing blue surface, not quite seeing it. Not yet.
 
 
Lorna
More than three decades later
 
 
   It is one  of those  journeys.  The  closer  they get to their destination, the  harder it is to imagine that  they'll ever actually arrive. There is always another bend  in  the  road,  a judder  to  the  dead  end of a farm track.  And  it is getting late, too late. Warm summer rain is drumming on the roof of the car.

"I say we cut our losses and  head back to the  Band B." Jon cranes over  the  steering wheel  to get  a better view  of the  road  liquefying behind the  windscreen. "Grab a pint  and  plan a wedding somewhere within the M25.  What do you reckon?"

Lorna draws a house with  her fingertip in the condensation on the window.  Roof. Chimney Squiggle of smoke. "Don't think so, darling."

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase. Copyright © 2016 by Eve Chase. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. Lorna and Amber are two very different women at very different places in their lives, but both are forever changed by events that occur at Black Rabbit Hall. In what ways are these women similar? How are they different? Did you relate to one character more than the other?
  2. As children, Amber and Toby are almost inseparable, but after their mother's death they both change dramatically—Amber reflects that she "no longer feel[s] like a girl inside" (p. 93), and Toby becomes increasingly angry and wild. Why do you think the twins grow apart, instead of together? Do you think they would have stayed close if Momma had lived? Why or why not?
  3. During her first visit to Black Rabbit Hall, Lorna discovers a horse's skull displayed in the library. Why do you think Mr. and then Mrs. Alton kept this, and why is it displayed so visibly? Do you agree with their choice? Jon comments, "This lot would stuff their own ancestors, given half a chance." What do you think he means?
  4. Which Alton sibling is your favorite? Why? Which sibling do you most identify with? Are they the same character?
  5. When the novel begins, Amber is fourteen. After the Alton family tragedy, however, she is forced to grow up quickly and take responsibility for her siblings. How do you think this responsibility affects her relationship with Lucian? How did you respond to their relationship? Did you have a "first love," and if so, did you relate to Amber's feelings? Why or why not?
  6. Lorna is enchanted by Black Rabbit Hall, knowing from the beginning this is where she'd like to be married. But as she explores, she feels more and more drawn to the family that lived there. Why did you first think she felt so tied to the Alton children? Is there somewhere from your family's past that you won't ever forget? Have you explored your own family history, and if so, did you find anything surprising?
  7. Discuss the character of Caroline Alton. She admits to Lorna that she found her stepchildren "unfathomable" (p. 168). Do you think she is a bad stepmother? Are her actions ever justified?
  8. As Lorna finds herself pulled further into the hallways and history of Black Rabbit Hall, she feels increasingly distant from Jon. Did you feel frustrated with Lorna's treatment of the wedding? Did you feel frustrated with Jon? At one point Lorna thinks of an ex who claimed that Lorna "tests" relationships to see if they're worth saving. Do you think this is true?
  9. Nancy Alton remains a beacon of beauty and grace throughout the novel. Why do you think Eve Chase wrote her as an American? In what ways is she different from Caroline? Are the two women ever alike, and should they be?
  10. Lorna finds much more than a wedding venue when she finally understands what happened at Black Rabbit Hall. Were you surprised by the ending? How do you feel about the Alton children, decades later?

 

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

A thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by the dark and tangled secrets of Black Rabbit Hall.

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Lorna has finally found the love of her life. Her relationship with Jon has always been easy and exciting at the same time, and she can imagine spending the rest of her life with him. But, like many engaged couples, the very process of planning a wedding may prove to be the biggest test their relationship has yet faced. Lorna, who recently and unexpectedly lost her mother, finds herself inexplicably (and, in Jon's mind, irrationally) drawn to a crumbling old mansion on the Cornish coast called Pencraw Hall on the wedding website, but known to all the locals as Black Rabbit Hall. Lorna is convinced that this is the same mansion she and her mother visited together when Lorna was a child, and despite Jon pointing out the house's many leaks, crumbling plaster, and overgrown gardens, Lorna is enchanted by its romantic ambience, its beauty, and, most importantly, the fact that she feels a mysterious emotional connection to the place.

Lorna's contemporary story, during which she grows increasingly entangled with the house's elderly owner and its skittish caretaker, alternates with an account of tragedy and betrayal that unfolded at Black Rabbit Hall more than thirty years earlier. Fifteen-year-old Amber Alton has always been as close as can be to her twin brother Toby. The two of them adore their much younger siblings, as well as their vivacious American mother. Their mother, in turn, adores Black Rabbit Hall, the family's wild country retreat from their more staid London existence. But during the Easter holidays in 1969, tragedy strikes the family and sets into motion a series of events that will leave all the members of the family deeply changed – and that may result in a cascade of additional misfortunes.

At first, the connection between the two stories – separated by several decades and connected only by this ramshackle old mansion – is unclear. And while it's likely that few readers will be entirely blindsided by the revelations that eventually disclose the threads tying the Alton family's harrowing past together with Lorna's more optimistic present, few will anticipate all the thorny turns that the narrative will take before its surprisingly upbeat conclusion.

Black Rabbit Hall is drawing a number of comparisons with the beloved novels of Daphne Du Maurier, not least because of their shared setting in Cornwall, but also because of a more generalized exploration of the links between a specific, evocative place and (often devastating) family history. Chase's novel rarely shifts setting from the confines of Black Rabbit Hall and its environs; when it does, the change is both jarring and a bit liberating, as if the reader can finally take a deep breath, away from the stifling and yet spellbinding atmosphere of this place.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl

The Huffington Post
A gorgeously written novel describing the love and affection that hold families together and the powerful forces that can tear them apart.

New York Post, “Required Reading”
A house, not a person, is the star of Chase’s debut novel—an ivy-covered country estate in Cornwall.

Richmond Times-Dispatch
Chase’s novel is lovely, dark and deep. But if you start it after sunset, you’ll likely have hours to go before you sleep. And when you awake, you might find that you have dreamed of Black Rabbit Hall again

Publishers Weekly
Chase deserves high marks for her atmospheric setting and vivid prose, and fans of old-fashioned gothic stories will find this a winner.

Booklist
The highly atmospheric setting immerses the reader in rainy, muddy Cornwall as the narrative drifts between musty rooms and uncurls in front of the fireplace... Fans of Carla Buckley and Lucie Whitehouse will enjoy this thrilling story of crumbling walls, forbidden love, and family sacrifice

Kirkus Reviews
Compellingly readable and riddled with twists and turns worthy of Daphne du Maurier, Chase's tale will delight fans of romantic mysteries.

Library Journal
Starred Review. Chase's heart-wrenching first novel is equal parts romance, mystery, and historical fiction. For readers who are interested in complex period drama such as Daisy Goodwin's The American Heiress, or who enjoy a touch of the gothic such as in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca or Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale

The Daily Mail (UK)
It's beautifully, poetically written and reminiscent of everything from I Capture The Castle to Hansel And Gretel. Eve Chase is a name to watch.

Author Blurb Alex Marwood, Edgar Award-winning author of The Wicked Girls
A deliciously intriguing novel whose rich sense of time and place bear more than a few echoes of du Maurier's best."

Author Blurb Michelle Gable, bestselling author of A Paris Apartment
Featuring a haunting, captivating storyline, an unforgettable Cornwall estate, and a cast of beguiling characters, Eve Chase has created a stunning page turner.

Author Blurb Wendy Webb, bestselling author of The Tale of Halcyon Crane
A deliciously addicting gothic in which dark secrets of the past scratch at the door of the present in a big, old, crumbing house on the wild Cornish coast. It's got it all, a lady of the house as crumbling as the bricks themselves, a mysterious maid, love, tragedy, evil and a strong heroine trying to make sense of it all.

Author Blurb Margaret Leroy, author of The Soldier's Wife
Black Rabbit Hall is an enthralling and deeply moving novel about family secrets, loss, and love. I was charmed by the beautifully-evoked Cornish setting, and the engaging children who are brought so vividly to life. Eve Chase is a wonderfully gifted storyteller.

Author Blurb Carla Buckley, author of The Things That Keep Us Here
Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase is the spellbinding, lusciously-written story of two families twined together across the span of time, trapped in limbo in a magical, sea-swept Cornwall house with secrets as deep as its Normandy roots.

Author Blurb Deborah Lawrenson, author of The Lantern and The Sea Garden
Eve Chase's deliciously intriguing descriptions will pull you in alongside her heroine Lorna in the red car that moves like a drop of blood down the drive to the house of secrets and dusty enchantments, as the outside world fades away.

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Gardens of Heligan

The Italian GardenThe grounds of Black Rabbit Hall (In Eve Chase's eponymously named novel) are depicted as lush and untamed, a state of wildness that could be the site of enchantment or of danger. Several times Chase mentions "giant rhubarb" growing wild in the woods around Black Rabbit Hall, a detail that immediately reminded me of a real Cornish garden that seems to share a number of qualities with the abundant foliage encircling Black Rabbit Hall – Heligan.

Mud MaidHeligan was once the home of the Tremayne family, near the Cornish town of Mevagissey. It was a beautiful home surrounded by elaborate, well-tended gardens developed over hundreds of years. But the outbreak of World War I, among other factors, meant that the garden quickly slid into neglect, and between 1914 and 1990, virtually no one even knew that this "secret garden" existed. Only the chance discovery, by one of the Tremayne family descendants, of a door in a garden wall led to the realization that these acres had once been horticultural treasures – and could possibly be again.

The JungleHeligan's gardens are still being actively restored, with various thematic areas including an Italian garden, vegetable beds, a series of lakes, a subtropical wild area, with lots of that giant rhubarb, known as "the Jungle", and a "pineapple pit," (a way of growing pineapples in colder climates, which consists of the pineapples surrounded by trenches filled with heat-producing manure and covered in glass walls.) The current caretakers have even incorporated a variety of new thematic and botanical sculptures, which add to the gardens' air of magic and secrecy and serve as a reminder that it's never too late for a season of rebirth.

The Italian Garden, courtesy of Chris Wood
Mud Maid, courtesy of www.trenython.co.uk
The Jungle, courtesy of Melanie Nakisa

By Norah Piehl

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