Bhalla Strand by Sarah Maine
|Bhalla Strand by Sarah Maine
|Category: General Fiction
|Reviewer: Louise Jones
|Summary: Two parallel stories, set a century apart, follow the lives of the women of Bhalla House. Imposing and remote, this once grand estate bears many secrets within it's ruined walls; secrets that are soon to be uncovered.
|Date: March 2014
|Publisher: Freight Books
1910: A renowned artist brings his young bride to his childhood home of Bhalla House, an imposing estate on a remote Hebridean island. The grand residence was built at the expense of the local community, many of whom were evicted from their homes and crofts in order to create this rich man’s playground. Tensions run deep and the division between rich and poor seems impossible to bridge.
A century later and a young woman, Hetty , arrives at Bhalla House with dreams of turning it into a hotel resort. She receives a cool welcome from the locals and her dream seems over before it can begin when human remains are discovered in the foundations of the property. Who do the remains belong to? Hetty decides to investigate the mystery by studying old pictures, photographs and letters. The ultimate fate of Bhalla House rests on what she discovers in these old forgotten documents.
The narrative of Bhalla Strand alternates between the stories of two women living a century apart: Beatrice, the young mistress of Bhalla House, married to an unresponsive and obsessive older man and Hetty, the new ‘mistress’ of the house who has ambitious plans, despite the opposition of the locals. The stories eventually come together, linked by the mystery surrounding the identity of the body buried under the floorboards.
There are inevitable comparisons between this book and my favourite novel Rebecca. Although the stories are quite different, there are themes common to both books: the arrival at a grand house of a young mistress who feels out of her depth; powerful symbolic imagery in the local landscape, colours and wildlife; a house that seems to have a personality of its own; the discovery of a body and of course, strong, memorable characters.
My favourite character was the tormented artist and taxidermist, Theo Blake. At the beginning of the story, we learn that he was eventually driven to madness and that his artworks became more grotesque as the years passed. However, Theo is a multi-layered character with a deep backstory and it is impossible not to feel some sympathy towards him, despite his taciturn and sometimes cruel, personality.
The story is engaging, haunting and powerful, but made all the more appealing by the use of descriptive imagery, symbolism and parallels between the modern and old characters. I particularly liked the reference to a yellow rose that Beatrice plants in the grounds of the house. It is feared that such a delicate thing will not survive the harsh environment and as we see the health of the plant wax and wane throughout the story, it seems to perfectly mirror the life of young Beatrice.
Bhalla Strand is a rewarding read and I cannot give it anything but enthusiastic praise. The characters, locations and plot were all absolutely perfect and it came as a great surprise to learn that this was the author’s debut novel. I predict great things for Sarah Maine.
If you enjoyed this, you may like The Loveday Conspiracy by Kate Tremayne
You can read more book reviews or buy Bhalla Strand by Sarah Maine at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
You can read more book reviews or buy Bhalla Strand by Sarah Maine at Amazon.com.
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