Friday, 25 January 2013

House of Silence - Linda Gillard

The aftermath of A Century of Books definitely seems to be a sudden dash towards 21st century books, particularly those I've had on hold for a while.  And few books have hovered more determinedly around my consciousness than Linda Gillard's House of Silence (2011).  I'd read her first three novels, and enjoyed them all - one to this-is-incredibly-I-love-it standards. Although I've never met Linda Gillard, we used to be in the same book discussion list, and we're friends on Facebook, so I'm putting this kind gift in Reading Presently.  Them's my rules.  And it's not even the first time she's given me a copy of the book.

As many of you will know, Linda Gillard is a runaway Kindle bestseller - we're talking 30,000 copies of House of Silence here, let alone her other Kindle titles - and has a devoted audience around the world.  And then, lolloping up behind them, wearing too many belts and clearly thinking the calculator in his hand is a mobile phone, comes me.  I don't have a Kindle, or any of the other-ereaders-are-available.  I don't want one even a tiny bit.  The only advantage they have, in fact - and this has quite genuinely appeared on my mental pros/cons list - is access to Linda Gillard's novels.

Yes, yes, I know.  Kindle-for-PC.  I downloaded it; Linda kindly gave me a download of House of Silence.  I tried to read it.  I read the first page every now and then... and got no further.  It was like standing outside a bank vault and not having the combination - because, try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to read an e-book.  It took me months to read the one my good friend had written, which even thanked me in it.

And then - praise be! - Linda published it as a POD paperback, and sent me a review copy of that.  Huzzah!  I read it, and, dear reader, it was good.  Which is just as well, after all that.

(Incidentally, isn't the cover gorgeous?  Unlike most self-published authors, Linda Gillard goes the extra mile with design and aesthetic, paying a designer for this beautiful look.  What a shame that easily her best novel, A Lifetime Burning, should also have easily her worst cover... but the new cover for the Kindle edition is beautiful.)

House of Silence has been advertised as Rebecca meets Cold Comfort Farm - both traits I could identify, and which can definitely be no bad thing - but, more than that, it felt reliably Gillard to me.  In terms of period, event, and even genre Linda is versatile - but certain ingredients stand out as characteristic.  The most dominant of these is the feel of the book and the characters, vague as that sounds - with Linda Gillard's novels, you know you're going to get strong emotions and passionate people, trammeled by everyday experience, but refusing to lie entirely dormant...

Guinevere (known as Gwen) works alongside actors, in the wardrobe department.  Already, I'm sold - you might know how I love books which feature actors, and Gillard uses Gwen's knowledge of fabrics to ingenious effect as the novel progresses.  It is in this role that she first meets Alfie, who is having some issues with his breeches... one thing leads to another, and they end up dating.  Which, in turn, leads to her spending Christmas with him and his family, at beautiful old Creake Hall in Norfolk.  He's a little reluctant for her to join him, but eventually is persuaded.

And what a group of eccentrics they find!  Chief amongst them - although appearing very little on the scene - is Alfie's mother Rae.  Her mind is wandering, and her grasp of time and people is never strong, but she is still regularly producing her series of children's books about Tom Dickon Harry.  This little chap has made her famous - and is based on Alfie himself, who (in turn) rose to notoriety after appearing in a documentary about the books when he was eighteen.  The irony is, Alfie explains, that he actually grew up with his father, who divorced Rae - and now he only sees his sister and half-sisters once a year, at Christmas.

Those sisters include loveable, scatty Hattie - who is forever making quilts, and babbling away without any real sense of boundaries.  Viv is less open, but still welcomes Gwen into the family.  Throw in two visiting sisters, in varying states of life-collapse, and things are bound to be interesting.  And Creake Hall is a wonderful setting.  Who doesn't love an Elizabethan manor for a mysterious, slightly unsettling novel?  What makes it most unsettling is that the reader shares with Gwen the feeling that Alfie isn't telling us everything... why was he so reluctant for her to stay?  What secrets does he hide?  What secrets are hidden by the house of silence?

Gwen is rather younger than Linda Gillard's previous heroines - she is in her mid-twenties, in fact.  At no point does she come across as that young, though - which I thought might be a failing on Gillard's part, until I got to the part where she asked Marek to guess her age:
"Older than you look.  Younger than you sound."
One of the main aspects of Gwen's personality is that she has had to be old before her years.  I suppose that's what happens when you lose your entire family during adolescence - to drugs, alcohol, and AIDS - including finding your mother, dead, on Christmas.  Yup, Gwen has had it tough.

Oh, and Marek, you ask?  He is the gardener, known as Tyler to everyone (because every gardener has been known as that) and is warm, a good listener - he used to be a psychiatrist - and generally a safe place for Gwen to retreat.  He's also (I quote Lyn's review) 'gorgeous, sexy, and irresistible.'  I have mental blocks for big age gaps with fictional couples - even Emma and Mr. Knightley is a combination which makes me wince a bit - so I'll sidestep any potential entanglements here, and leave those quandaries to your imagination.  I will say that Marek reminds me a lot of Gavin from Gillard's Emotional Geology, that he lives in a windmill (far from the only thing which reminded me of Jonathan Creek), and plays the cello - which led me in the direction of this beautiful piece.  It's Rachmaninov's Sonata in G Minor, Opus 17 No.3, Andante.  (Sorry, I have no idea how one is supposed to phrase the titles to music.)



I refuse to give any more of the plot away.  I've left it all deliberately vague, because it's the sort of novel where the plot does matter.  One of the reasons it reminded me of an episode of Jonathan Creek, in the best possible way, is that you're desperate to find out what happens - and twist upon twist come, so that everything is plausible but unguessable.  The 'reveals' are entirely consistent with people's behaviour throughout the novel; character is never sacrificed to plot - indeed, the explanation of what has happened is also an explanation of why the members of this family are the way they are.

It's all beautifully, addictively done.  I stayed up far later than I should, devouring the second half of the novel. I was unsure, in the beginning, whether it would match up to the compulsive quality of Gillard's other novels, and the action doesn't quite kick into gear until we've arrived at Creake Hall - but, after that, hold onto your hats.  It is a mark of Linda Gillard's talent that her novels are both versatile and identifiable - no matter what genre she turns her hand to (and I believe her next was a paranormal romance), I would be able to recognise a Gillard at a hundred paces.  And, although she may be one of the new wave of successful Kindle authors, thank Heaven she's found a way for the Kindless to enjoy the dizzying, thoughtful extravaganza that is House of Silence.


Others who got Stuck in this Book:

"House of Silence is a compulsively readable book. It’s a compelling story of family secrets & lies, set in a crumbling Elizabethan mansion at Christmas in the depths of a freezing Norfolk winter." - Lyn, I Prefer Reading

"This is a book in which it is so easy to lose yourself, at once emotional and mysterious." - Margaret, Books Please

"The book has romance, bubbling away underneath, it deals with mental health issues so effectively and considerately that you actually do not realise until reflecting back on the book." - Jo, The Book Jotter

33 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you finally had a chance to read HOS, Simon. I agree with everything you say about the book although I'm more enthusiastic about the Marak-Gwen thing than you are! Thanks for linking to my review, too.

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    1. It's just a blindspot that I have, I recognise that I have the problem, not the book!
      I'm so pleased a physical copy was printed - I really felt I was missing out.

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  2. Oh, I am quoted! I have never been quoted before! Glad you enjoyed the book, it is the first Linda Gillard I read and just gobbled up this novel and loved it too!

    I must get round to reading her latest, which yes is on my kindle.

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    1. Heehee - you're welcome!

      You should definitely download A Lifetime Burning too - I was blown away by it.

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  3. I too read, and loved, this a couple of years ago, though like you I really dislike reading things on any form of electronic device. I even have an ipad now and have downloaded quite a few books onto it but cannot bring myself to actually read them. But Linda Gillard is great so I'm glad you have managed to read this!

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    1. And yet you managed to read something for book group on your iphone, didn't you? I was so impressed by that!

      Have you read Linda Gillard's others?

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  4. You see this is where I wobble with the Kindle on occasion, only a small wobble mind, oh and the fact that I could read it in the dark not disturbing someone elses sleep when I am in the throws of insomniam - which is happening worryingly often of late. Anyway, I went on a tangent then...

    I do occasionally feel that I miss out on books because they are Kindle hits and not in print, and this is a book many many people have raved about, I think I would have liked (seeing as I love Rebecca so) and have left because I cant read e-books on the computer, and I have tried as you have, or on my phone which I tried once. But maybe as its POD I could go for that at some point.

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    1. I think this would definitely be up your street, Simon - spooky house, complex family, etc. sounds like the sort of thing you enjoy. Hopefully (see below) you'll get the chance to read this too!

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  5. I read - and loved - this on Kindle, so much so that I think it was the first book where I discovered *my* Kindle problem: although I think it is a brilliant invention, and it's transformed my life, saving me from taking 6 books away for a weekend and meaning that I can still get into my room to sleep, if I fall in love with a book I want a "proper" copy for re-reading. In this case it's made worse because I bought a POD copy for a Christmas present and oh, the struggle to actually wrap and send it, because it was delectable and I wanted it so! Though it did help that the recipient loved it too.

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    1. Ha! I suppose you could see the Kindle as your testing ground? But maybe not the most economic one...

      Thank goodness the recipient read and loved it, otherwise that would have been very galling!

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  6. Thanks so much for your very entertaining review, Simon. Definitely worth waiting for! :-)

    I’m bringing out my indie ebooks in pb now. THE GLASS GUARDIAN is the latest. I’d had so many requests for pbs from readers. Most were polite but some were quite grumpy. One even accused me of discriminating against non-Kindle owners! There’s definitely an anti-technology faction which I find rather sad. Ask any Kindle owner if s/he now buys fewer tree books. I’d be very surprised if the answer was yes. The first thing I did with my ebook earnings was join the Folio Society and I’ve since become a very good customer.

    There were also people who’d read the ebooks and wanted a hard copy on their shelves, so I decided to go into print publishing. I doubted readers would pay the price I needed to charge to make even a modest profit, but in fact the pbs are selling respectably.

    I bought one of the first Kindles with the Lilliputian keyboard, just because I thought I ought to know how the they worked if I was publishing for them. Initially sceptical, I was hooked in a matter of days. My husband has a Paperwhite (bigger screen, no keyboard) and he’s thrilled with it. He reads much more now than he used to. The variable print size is a boon to people our age!

    Simon Savidge - I'd be happy to send you a review copy of HOUSE OF SILENCE. Let me know if you'd like one.

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    1. You're welcome, Linda :)

      I love that ebook proceeds led you to join the Folio Society - right at the other end of the scale. I have tried to tame my anti-Kindle sentiments, recognising that they're great for a lot of people. I think the pity is when great books are *only* published as ebooks (which I realise isn't often the author's fault) but I suppose the alternative is not being published at all. What I don't understand is the authors who are vilified for *not* publishing ebook version (those small few who are around) - surely it should be up to them?

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  7. I love that more publishers and authors are publishing previously ebook-only books in print. Whilst I'm not keen on ebooks (though I'll read them) I do see the need for both formats and the way it's getting more people into reading. I like the sound of this one and the way the plot is important. I've found recently that characterisation sometimes gets in the way of good mysteries and although well-developed characters are great, it's best when the plot is focused on just as much.

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    1. Your point about characterisation getting in the way of a mystery has really interested me. I often think of plot getting in the way of character, but never vice versa - but now you've got me thinking...

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    2. I think I know what you mean, Charlie. There's a famous 1920s play by Pirandello called SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR. So many contemporary novels could be subtitled SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF A GOOD PLOT.

      Speaking as an author, creating characters is easy. Writing well is harder, but the real challenge is plot - creating a plot that feels organic, inevitable, not arbitrary or just mechanical. I do believe the best plots are character-driven, but they should be *driven*. They shouldn't amble towards tidy & predictable conclusions.

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  8. I have never read anything by Gillard but every single review I have read of this is glowing. Now it it just a matter of trying to figure out how to get my hands on it. I have an e-reader and everything but the ebook doesn't seem to be available in Canada!

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    1. Oh, really? Maybe give Linda an email (which I think you can do through her website, or I can pass it on) and she'll give you the low-down - or could you get it when you're in England? I don't know how these things work at all.

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    2. Claire, HOUSE OF SILENCE *is* available on Kindle in Canada. (I'm not sure why the pb isn't there as well.)

      I'm not sure if I'm allowed to post the link but this is the Amazon.ca page I see - http://www.amazon.ca/HOUSE-OF-SILENCE-ebook/dp/B004USSPN2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1359131622&sr=8-1

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    3. Alternatively, Claire, if you still can't find it or would like a pb as a review copy, get in touch. Email me at info@lindagillard.co.uk

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    4. Thanks, Linda. I've sent you an email, since when I follow that Amazon link it still shows unavailable for purchase.

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  9. I, too, can't bring myself to read an ebook. I hope I can find a way to obtain a paperback copy here in the US.

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    1. Might be pricey... but would be worth it!

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  10. Update! The paperback version is available on Amazon!

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    1. Oh, hurrah! I'm sure you'll be swept along with it joyously.

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  11. This sounds enticing, Simon, and I'm always happy to hear of self-publishing victories, because it's so NOT the bad old days of Vanity Press and people being duped into paying for a printer to "publish" something that now is stacked in their garage. It's the era of writers saying to publishers, you guys are getting it all wrong and I'm going to handle this myself.

    Still don't have an e-reader, except my PC (as in Kindle for...) but since I spend so much of my day staring at a screen, I just have to get away to the printed page when I can. Definitely not an either/or thing. There's room in the world for both.

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    1. I agree with you, Susan, when self-publishing is at its best. As a blogger, I'm afraid I get the other end of the scale contact me too - the people who should only really be vanity publishing, since there won't be a market anywhere for the quality they are writing. Sometimes (but not always!) it's difficult to work out, from an email, who will be wonderful and who will be drivel. I think Linda Gillard's production values really help there - you can immediately tell that she means business! :)

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    2. There are a few "gatekeeper" websites now and there will be more as indie books proliferate and readers feel overwhelmed by choice. Readers and authors are now setting up sites where featured books have to meet certain criteria, eg the books must be well-reviewed by a certain number of readers and must also be competently edited and professionally produced.

      There's also now an excellent professional body, The Alliance of Independent Authors (of which I was a founder member). We not only have professional literary standards, we also have guidelines for ethical behaviour. We work in a co-operative rather than a competitive way and in that respect we aim to be the "Fair Trade" arm of publishing. ;-)

      But if you're trying to find a quality indie ebook, I'd say look at the cover in the first instance You *do* get very good books with covers that look "self-published" (Valerie Laws' hilarious & original LYDIA BENNET'S BLOG: THE REAL STORY OF PRIDE & PREJUDICE is a good example) but most indie authors are constrained by budget. You need to bear that in mind when browsing. My covers look good because I spent a lot of money on them having them professionally designed. (I was preparing for a miracle!)

      My other piece of advice to book buyers is read the sample. It's there to stop you wasting your money. You can tell from the first page if an author can write. You'll need to read rather more to discern whether or not the book's likely to be good read. Indie authors are very aware that the sample (always the opening of the book) is our shop window. Anyone who hasn't bothered to get that right will be an amateur.

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  12. I'm Kindless as well, and now I feel sorry for it (for the first time in my reading life). Dammit. This sounds like a fabulous book, and I don't have much chance of finding a physical copy here in Argentina.

    Anyway. Despite my little whiny tangent, this is a great review and I'll be keeping an eye on Linda Gillard's books from now on.

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    1. Caro, can you not buy from Amazon.com? They sell the paperback.

      If not I can send you a copy. Contact me at my email which I've posted earlier in the thread.

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  13. I'm so glad you like Linda's books Simon. My claim to fame I have met Linda several times, and love hearing her talk about her books. I still have Linda's two most recent novels to read on my kindle. Blame my TBR which is insane. I agree about A lifetime Burning - my favourite of Linda's novels.

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  14. None of her books are available at my library, or on Better World Books (a used book site) and more frustratingly none are available for my ereader (a Nook). It's a shame, because I think I'd really enjoy her, but with my health conditions I prefer buying ebooks.

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    1. Eva, can you upload pdfs or Word docs to your Nook? I can email those as review copies if that's of any use to you. Email me if you're interested.

      It's on my To Do list to get my ebooks on to Nook & Kobo but there are only so many hours in the day and being indie makes huge inroads into writing time. It's become a difficult choice: make the books more widely available or write more books?

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  15. Well, thanks to you, I purchased Gillard's book for my Kindle. Thank goodness I have a Kindle and a Nook HD. Can't wait to read it.

    Don't know if you know, but your blog is listed on my "Blogs of Substance" list.

    Judith (Reader in the Wilderness)

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