Eve Chase’s second novel The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde is a dual timeline story about mothers and daughters, sisters, secrets and grief, which switches between 1959 and some fifty years later when new owners move in to the house at the centre of a tragic local mystery.
In the heatwave of 1959, four sisters arrive at Applecote Manor to relive their memories of hazy Cotswolds summers.
They find their uncle and aunt still reeling from the disappearance of their only daughter, five years before. An undercurrent of dread runs through the house. Why did Audrey vanish? Who is keeping her fate secret?
As the sisters are lured into the mystery of their missing cousin, the stifling summer takes a shocking, deadly turn. One which will leave blood on their hands, and put another girl in danger decades later . . .
Eve Chase’s gorgeous writing quickly drew me in to The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde; she conjures up Applecote Manor and its grounds, both as they were back in that heady summer of 1959, and in their current state of neglect as new owners come in and slowly bring the place back to life over the changing seasons. It’s been left with much of the previous owners’ furniture and possessions in situ, making it even easier to imagine this as a place unable to break free from its past or local superstition.
In the earlier time period, I found the relationships among the four Wilde sisters, affectionately dubbed the Wildlings by their Uncle Perry, interesting, especially seeing how the dynamic between them shifts over the course of the book. They’re certainly plunged in to a difficult situation. That this is likely to be the last summer which the sisters spend together before their futures start diverging, only adds to its poignancy.
There are sisters in the modern-day section too, which contrasts nicely with the sibling relationship of the Wildlings that is tested that summer of 1959. It’s not clear how close their more contemporary counterparts are in reality until they, too, are put to the test but factors such as their age gap, being part of a blended family and some worrying sleepwalking all have a part to play, as does the core mystery.
Eve Chase deals with loss and grief in both timelines of The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde; in the past, we see parents grieving their missing daughter, Audrey, with Sybil and Perry’s coping mechanisms polar opposites. Once the four Wildlings arrive on the scene, Sybil’s grief takes on a disturbing and heartbreaking new focus. In the contemporary sections, teenager Bella is grieving her dead mother, something which new stepmother Jessie finds difficult to navigate. Both the dead daughter (and cousin) from the past and the dead mother in the present-day are hard acts to follow; paragons of virtue by which everyone else is measured, with their youth and beauty preserved forever in photographs.
I found this symmetry between the sisters’ relationships and those of the mothers and daughters in both past and present was something that worked well and helped to give a sense of balance to The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde. (Although I did have a slight preference for the storyline set in the 1959 heatwave because it felt more atmospheric.) I also liked how the mystery was handled between both timelines. Eve Chase paces the suspense beautifully until she’s ready for the reveal and brings characters together from the past and present to reach a resolution.
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde is a haunting, richly evocative dream of a novel, filled with suspense and secrets. I’d definitely recommend a visit to Applecote Manor.
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde by Eve Chase is published by Michael Joseph an imprint of Penguin Books. It is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback and in paperback. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive where purchases help support your local independent bookshop. For more on Eve Chase and her books, check out her Author Website, Facebook page or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy via NetGalley.
*GIVEAWAY* I have a paperback to give away. Leave a comment below and the squirrels will pick a winner.