The Vanishing is another book that I’ve been waiting to come into paperback for ages. It looks exactly up my street: Victorian era, the Gothic, moors, a wealthy family, dark secrets – what’s not to love? I had made plans to purchase it on my next trip into Birmingham but I came upon it in a local Tesco, a single copy waiting on a shelf just for me, so I snatched it up.
I settled myself down on a dreary Saturday morning and started to give myself over to Miss Annaleigh Calvert, a Foundling who grew up in London and was adopted by a Painter and his family. As her life becomes more romantically entangled she is sent to Yorkshire to work as a housekeeper for a wealthy family.
For the first hundred pages or so I found the characters really hard to connect with, and for a book that had promised me so much in the way of dark secrets and lies, there wasn’t really much going on. Annaleigh is the main character and the narrative is told first person through her eyes. She’s an interesting character, though I found that I didn’t really connect with her straight away and although awful things do happen in this book, I had to force myself to care. Her upbringing as a adoptive child is quite rare in Victorian society as most children are just ‘taken in’, and it gives a good perspective of someone caught between two families, who doesn’t really fit into either.
Miss Calvert ends up in the employ of the Twentyman’s, also originally from London but retired from the city. The introduction of the looming character of Marcus Twentyman, master of the house, is probably the first time I started to feel the book turning sinister. He emanates fear and danger and at every meeting you’re really urging Annaleigh to run away from him. His sister, Hester, is probably the character I feel the most sorry for, as she is a reflection of all the women who were trapped by the ideas and morals of men.
There is a great sense of back and forth between the ‘truth’ of the characters and its fun trying to work out who you believe and why. I did feel a little sorry for Annaleigh being stuck in the middle but it makes her position as a character so much more interesting. Because it’s in first person you only have the information she has, and unfortunately her limited life experience means the reader works things out a lot more quickly than she does. I must say here that although Annaleigh does keep the house clean and serves dinner, she is otherwise a terrible servant. She is so insolent and abrasive its a wonder anybody would employ her.
In terms of the setting, I would have thought that the Yorkshire Moors would have played an endless part in the story, but there’s barely anything in the way of luscious description, or anything that made me feel truly isolated from the world, even in the darkest parts of the story. This was definitely an underplayed feature, especially for a novel billed as being like Wuthering Heights. I think I would have liked to see more pathetic fallacy too, and how the whole setting played into the psyche of the characters.
For as slow as this book is sometimes, once Annaleigh is properly ensconced in the household it begins to take a truly dark turn. I won’t spoil what happens for you but it’s very twisted, even I was surprised and I’ve read hundreds of Victorian Gothic novels. I was fascinated, watching everything unravel and the horrible secrets of Marcus and Hester Twentyman spill out. There were times when I got frustrated though, because nobody ever turns round an exclaims how horrible the things are that happen, they just accept it. Even though the plot really soars from here, I still didn’t really care for the characters but I came to feel that maybe that was the point, you should trust no one.
The third and final part of the novel felt very rushed, and the reader doesn’t really have time to get their head around things. There’s lots of juicy secrets spilling out but everything is so rushed that it spoils it a little. Don’t let this put you off though, it’s still good, it’s just that having adjusted to the pace of the previous parts it throws you off slightly.
The last thing to mention, and this is really just a bonus point, is that there are tiny faint whispers of Rebecca in this novel, made all the more amusing that this thought was bought to my attention by a character named Becky, who wanted to know if Marcus had killed the previous housekeeper. Annaleigh starts to wonder herself if the previous servant had had to perform the same tasks as she, only to be hushed up and promptly disappear. If this wasn’t enough, a strange snippet later on in the book references a Rebecca, who is “(now dead, not forgotten)”. I like to think that it doesn’t take its whole narrative form from Rebecca, but it is a nod of the head to those sorts of ‘hidden marriage secret’ novels made famous by Du Maurier.
Overall I wasn’t completely enthused by this novel, but if you like a plot that falls of a cliff in terms of morality then you’ll find it here. I’m reluctant to say I didn’t enjoy it because it was so warped in places it was hard not to in a weird way, so I will class it as the type of book that invites friendly discussion over tea.