Book #20

Bone China by Laura Purcell

Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft's family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.

Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.

This is my third Purcell novel, and I truly love her brand of historical fiction peppered with a little bit of the old spooks. She unsettles me hugely with her old creaking houses, her out of the ordinary bumps in the night, and her seemingly untrustworthy and creepy characters.

Bone China is no different, except the old creaking house is much more affecting with its towering position over the sea. Wind and water blast the house, unrecognisable noises batter its walls, and our new lady’s maid, Hester Why, finds herself worlds apart from luxurious London. She is running away, with a new name and a box full of secrets. But the new life she’s relying on is a dark one, filled with her new colleagues’ superstition, her new mistress’s silence, and a house full of secrets which may or may not be supernatural.

Despite the wonderful chilly atmosphere and the hallmark tension Purcell brings to my bones, something about this one didn’t click into place for me. I was intrigued, but I felt the finale didn’t quite live up to the expectation. There were also a good few characters here I’d have liked to have learned more about.

Although the ending felt frustrating, I can recognise this is asking the same question as many of the other great gothic horror authors - is it paranormal or psychological? A chef’s kiss of a question, especially when you’re unsure of the answer.