I can’t tell you what exactly about this book held me captive. I spent the entire story trying to figure it out. The characters are engaging but not breathtakingly original. The setting is one most regular readers know very well: an English village in the 1600s. Disease, witch burnings, peasants and aristocracy. It’s nothing groundbreaking. It’s a pretty straightforward Gothic novel that I couldn’t stop reading.
The story is almost agonizingly slow. It starts with the death of a woman in the village, Dora. She was a prostitute, the only one in town, it seems, but she was highly revered by everyone in the community. Her death is a tragedy to one and all but her loss is felt particularly strongly by the narrator (who isn’t ever named). Her mother is the village’s midwife and as such she and the narrator spend a considerable amount of time with Dora. They didn’t exactly have the pill in those days, after all. The narrator recalls her run ins with Dora (nicknamed “the great-bellied woman” due to her near constant pregnancies) and struggles to come to terms with her sudden, confusing death.
As time passes, Dora’s death becomes more of mystery. At first, it seems apparent that she merely slipped and fell to her death. Evidence starts to come to light that maybe something more sinister was involved. Something suspicious about the men in her life. Something odd about the twelve year old son she left behind. Maybe even something demonic is at work.
There isn’t much I can say without giving everything away. One thing this book has is a perfectly surprising ending. I was shocked but not disappointed. The ending fits even though it isn’t at all what I expected. I absolutely love a book that can surprise me.
One warning for potential readers: if you can’t stand a slow burn, don’t even bother. It was hard to stand sometimes, I kept waiting for a pay off that kept not happening. However, if you can stand the torture, the pay off is worth it.