by Rosemary McLoughlin
Review by Gayle Surrette
Atria Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781476733104
Date: 25 February 2014 List Price $16.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Tyringham Park was a difficult book to read. I read it to the end and it is well written with some very interesting characters. It's too bad that the most interesting and sympathetic characters are the minor background ones, the kind that don't last very long before they move offstage. On the other hand, the main character, and most of her family, are the most psychologically damaged and dysfunctional bunch a reader would hope never to meet again. Thus, I have a hard time judging how to rate the book other than to say, I kept reading to see if I was right about the underlying mystery, or mysteries, depending on whether you pick up on one that is the elephant in the room, but never dealt with -- so it did keep me reading. I also didn't throw it against a convenient wall either, although since it was an electronic copy, and on my pad, I wouldn't do that anyway. I guess whether you'll like the book or not depends on your tolerance for unlikeable characters who do nothing to make their lives better, or even to help themselves, and in fact mostly work against their own interests.
The book starts in 1917 when the main character, Charlotte Blackshaw, is about eight and her younger sister, Victoria, who is not quite two-years-old, disappears. Victoria is never found, nor is her body, and the lack of closure about what happened to her has a direct influence on Charlotte's life for years to come. Victoria was known as the pretty one and also accommodating and quiet. Charlotte was considered tom-boyish, rude, ignorant, and ugly. With a start like that you can see why she tended to be a bit unruly. Added to that is the fact that the nurse in charge of her and her sister hated children. Readers learn very quickly that the nurse beat the children and withheld food.
At first you feel very sorry for Charlotte. However, as time passes and you learn more about her family and her place within it, it becomes obvious that she also has a lot of opportunities to improve her lot in life but, instead, takes those opportunities and destroys them. Over time as she grows up she has people come into her life that go above and beyond what you'd expect of a hired employee and try to help her grow in strength and self-respect.
The book follow the ups and downs of Charlotte's life -- the good, the bad, the hopeful, the ugly, and finally the ultimate reveal that has been driving her actions throughout. It's interesting how a singularly horrible childhood, coupled with the loss of a child and the lack of closure, can influence the lives of so many people.
This is not a book that some people will want to read, but it is an interesting psychological study of a dysfunctional family, during an interesting period of history, and dealing with English aristocracy, Ireland, Australia, and the time between World War I and II. I'd definitely read a sample prior to diving into the book to see if it is your cup of tea.