My former neighbour, Gill, dropped round a whole load of books. This was on the top of the pile and on the top of my list. As soon as I completed last month's book group selection, I picked this up and devoured it.
The story is set primarily just before, during and immediately after the First World War in a grand English country house to the east of London. The characters are the upstairs moneyed classes and the downstairs staff devoted to service of the upstairs. The story is narrated by Grace, a lady's maid who was sent to work in the house by her mother when she is only 14. Grace tells the story as a 99 year old preparing for her imminent death but wanting the truth of a tragedy at that grand house in 1924 to be told.
I find tales of this era to be utterly fascinating. I thought the book was well researched and nicely written. OK, so it wasn't the most intellectual of literature but I'm not a snob.
There were some elements of the story that weren't quite believable. For example, the entire story is told from Grace's point of view as she lurks around the house and over hears conversations from beginning to end. Rarely does anyone notice and certainly no one tells her to go away.
I also found it entirely improbable that after many years as a lady's maid in the 1920s a young woman with no formal education would then go on to university as a mature student to get a PhD in archeology. Call me crazy, but I don't think so!
On the other hand, this book had a real sense of history and the descriptions of the clothing, food, and countryside were very visual. I liked the characters although some were too stereo typical and could have had some more depth. But Grace was a sympathetic character and I really loved Hannah and how she developed as she grew older.
The book dragged a bit in the middle and at 600 pages some smart editing should have been done. But the last 100 pages is so riveting I couldn't put it down. I have read that others predicted the ending. I certainly didn't and was a wee bit confused and couldn't figure out who actually did it. (Don't want to spoil it for y'all.)
This is a great fun book although at 600 pages I wouldn't call it a quick read. You don't have to think much and the story of Grace growing older juxtaposed with the story of her growing up is enjoyable.
I recommend it as a holiday read!