18 February 2016

Review: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

Review: Black Rabbit Hall by Eve ChaseI was attracted to Eve Chase's debut novel, Black Rabbit Hall, because the premise hit some of my can't-resist buttons: Gothic, rambling Cornish estate, dual time periods, and a bit of mystery. Plus I really loved the cover and the title (I'm kind of shallow like that).

The basic setup: The story of what happens at Black Rabbit Hall, a country home owned for several generations by the Alton family, is told from two perspectives, separated by about thirty years. In the late 1960s, fifteen-year-old Amber Alton introduces us to the magic of the estate, where her happy family is spending a school holiday. As a storm blows in off the ocean, we sense something foreboding.

In the twenty-first century, Lorna Dunaway and her fiance, Jon, are lost on a rainy afternoon, trying to find Pencraw Hall, a Cornish estate, recently billed as a wedding venue. Lorna's family often vacationed in Cornwall, and she's determined to get married there, in part to honor her recently deceased mother. When the couple finally find the house, they learn the locals refer to it as Black Rabbit Hall. Although Jon is leery and is ready to return to London, Lorna accepts an invitation from the elderly Mrs. Alton to come back alone and spend a weekend to familiarize herself with the house and grounds.

As the dark secrets of Black Rabbit Hall are revealed, so too are far-reaching consequences brought about by the actions of a selfish, evil woman.

Genre: literary fiction with Gothic tones, including a Cornish country house furnished with secrets

Themes: family, loss, mothers, siblings, being caught in the between places

Characters: Each person we meet within the walls of Black Rabbit Hall is emotionally authentic and easy to envision. The characters are complex and motivated by conflicting circumstances. I may have hated what some of them did, but I believed they acted consistently with their personalities, age, and situation.

General thoughts: Eve Chase's Black Rabbit Hall is wrought with atmosphere, tension, and enough mystery to keep us invested, even in the characters we dislike. I was able to imagine how special Black Rabbit Hall was to the young Amber and understood her devastation and confusion when her world collapsed. As Lorna is pulled to the house and its history, we feel the range of her reactions from curiosity to enchantment and then to horror and disbelief. I was as caught up in her journey as I was in Amber's.

A couple more things: (1) Black Rabbit Hall is not meant to have a big mystery with a huge reveal; instead, most of us will soon have an idea of where the story is going. On the other hand I doubt anyone will figure out all the details. And, as they say, the devil is in those details. (2) I usually really hate epilogues, but in this case it seems to work. I think Chase was right in jumping us ahead a few months to create the final scene. It was satisfying to have a clearer idea of where the characters were heading.

Thoughts on the Audiobook: I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Penguin Audio; 12 hr, 6 min), which was read by Nathalie Buscombe, Katie Scarfe, and Cassandra Campbell. No point being coy: The performances were excellent. Each narrator perfectly captured the novel's ambiance and nailed the characters' personalities. The smooth transitions between the readers kept me fully immersed in the story and on track for whose perspective (Amber's or Lorna's) was being presented. The narrators were equally adept at building the tension and drawing out the suspense. Even after I had figured out one of the principal plot points. I was still glued to every word.

I'm sure I would have loved Eve Chase's Black Rabbit Hall in print, but I'm grateful I chose the audiobook. It's one of my favorites of the year so far -- and will likely make my best-of list for 2016.

Published by Penguin Random House / Putnam, 2016
ISBN-13: 9780399174124
Source: Review--audio (see review policy)
Copyright © cbl for Beth Fish Reads, all rights reserved (see review policy)

12 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks 2/18/16, 8:52 AM  

I am also a sucker for Cornish settings (and for good covers, but of course I am loathe to admit it).

bermudaonion 2/18/16, 9:00 AM  

I really like the sound of this one and can see why it worked so well on audio.

Kay 2/18/16, 9:50 AM  

I'm planning on reading this one in a couple of weeks. I actually ordered it from the UK last year and it has a different cover that I don't like as much. It will be part of my Gothic Challenge and should fit very well within that. Thanks for reporting in on your experience.

Belle Wong 2/18/16, 10:11 AM  

This sounds good! My library doesn't have the audiobook version, so I'll be getting it in ebook, I guess.

Kerry M 2/18/16, 10:25 AM  

Oh, I hadn't heard of this -- but you've got me interested. Off to see if the library has an audio copy coming in!

Vicki 2/18/16, 11:08 AM  

I haven't seen this book before, but it sounds good.

Bec 2/18/16, 3:45 PM  

I'm always a bit leery of novels set in Cornwall, I was born and raised there. Unfortunately unless an author has lived there for several years they always get the tiny details wrong. The Lake House being a good example,

(Diane) bookchickdi 2/18/16, 9:35 PM  

This sounds like a terrifically atmospheric novel.

Majanka Verstraete 2/19/16, 2:37 AM  

Gothic! Literary! Oh my God, I want to read this. Or hear it, if the audiobook is that good.

Majanka @ I Heart Reading

Sally Whitney 2/19/16, 1:23 PM  

Gothic and literary are an unusual mix. I'll try to check this book out since you liked it so much.

Lyn Lindfield 2/19/16, 4:41 PM  

I take your point about the cover. It is sad but true that a great cover can draw readers to a book and an ordinary cover can ensure they just pass straight over it.

Literary Feline 2/19/16, 10:38 PM  

Thank you for your thoughts on this one. It is one I am looking forward to reading. I couldn't resist the cover, admittedly--and once I read the synopsis I knew I would want to read it. I am glad it was worth it.

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