Charlotte Blackshaw is only eight years old when her little sister Victoria goes missing from the estate. Charlotte is left to struggle with her loss without any support from her hostile mother and menacing nanny. It is obvious to Charlotte that both of them wish she had been the one to go missing rather than pretty little Victoria.
Charlotte finds comfort in the kindness of servants. With their help she seeks an escape from the burden of being the unattractive one left behind.
Despite her mother’s opposition, she later reaches out for happiness and believes the past can no longer hurt her.
But the mystery of Victoria’s disappearance continues to cast a long shadow over Tyringham Park – a mystery that may still have the power to destroy its world and the world of all those connected to it.
Young Charlotte is building a bridge of sticks and mud when she’s informed her younger, beautiful sister Victoria is missing. From that day forward, her horrible nanny treats her even more poorly, her resentful mother scorns her, and her own self-worth fades. From her first hunt on the estate grounds, to her first art gallery showing in Dublin, to her exile in Australia as a doctor’s wife, Charlotte’s plagued by the disappearance of little Victoria. But as family, friends, and servants begin to piece together the events of that sad day, Charlotte strives to take matters into her own hands to prevent the truth from crumbling so many lives.
Let’s first burst the bubble to all Downton Abbey fans and confirm that this is not like the show. It seems marketing teams try to entice readers by comparing any book with a large estate featuring upstairs-downstairs relationships set during WWI and WWII to that of the show. However, there’s something sparkly with the show, its good relationships between classes and care for other wealthy families and the villagers, that doesn’t quite ring true with the books advertised as such. In fact, this book (and many like it) may be more true to life than the show. Consider O’Brien and Barrow from the first season — hateful, conniving, self-centered — and set them upstairs as well as downstairs. Consider Edith, the unloved and unlucky of the three sisters. These characters are featured in the book, and it’s fascinating.
Tyringham Park follows the family, the servants, and friends across three decades, from the Park to Dublin, London to Sydney. Victoria’s disappearance haunts 8-year-old Charlotte through adulthood. Charlotte’s decisions, mentality, emotional range, and personality are so affected by this childhood trauma that she, even into adulthood, sometimes acts like a child. Her growth is stunted, her self-esteem crushed, her world-view skewed. I wanted nothing but the best for poor Charlotte, but few people cared for her or believed in her. She was abused as a child before Victoria’s disappearance, and evidence of that shines through to the end. It’s heartbreaking.
Shining moments of growth in Charlotte — moments that, if they lasted longer and if she were around more positive people, would have helped her overcome her psychological obstacles — really brought light to the story. Her moments riding horses, her first true praise in her self-worth. Her times painting with her tutor, Cormac, and the affirmation at a gallery that she is truly extraordinary. Her tenderness as a mother when she’s living in Australia. It’s so beautiful and bittersweet, because someone with great influence in her life crushes each joy.
The mother, Lady Edwina Blackshaw, and the nanny, Dixon, are so beyond hateful it took all my willpower not to want to crush the review copy. That’s good news — excellent writing on McLoughlin’s part! Edwina is so self-centered, jealous, and wicked that she does not realize how incredibly dull and hurtful she truly is. There’s a moment when her husband, Waldron, shouts at her for her treatment of others — especially Charlotte — that for a moment you genuinely like his character (despite how oblivious he can be) and wish you could be shouting at her as well. Dixon, also self-centered, is vain, abusive, critical, and so incredibly strange in her view of her self-worth and perception. In one chapter, she talks about how beautiful she is, how she could snag any man she wants, how stunning her dresses are and how others will be so impressed by her. In the next, another character looks upon her and finds a plain, dull, over-dressed and desperate woman. Quite comical, actually.
So many people’s lives unexpected change from Victoria’s disappearance. If Victoria was still around, Dixon could have kept her post as nanny, Charlotte wouldn’t have learned to paint, her brother Harcourt wouldn’t have introduced her to Lochlann, Charlotte wouldn’t have been exiled to Australia. And that’s not the end of it — periphery lives are changed as well: other servants in the household, a manageress at an Australian hotel, the people in Charlotte’s town, a medical family down the road from the Blackshaws’ townhouse. This saga (if that’s the appropriate word) was so incredibly fascinating that I couldn’t put it down.
The writing was phenomenal, the storytelling wonderful. My one concern is that, unless the reader understands major psychological impacts of various aspects of disappearance and abuse, it can be difficult to understand and enjoy the various points of view. Even the horrid characters can be hard to enjoy reading, but I have to say it truly gave life to the book, gave a well-rounded interpretation of events from the good and the bad sorts of people. That must be where enjoyment of this book lies: an understanding in the complexities of humanity, and knowing one event can change the course of many lives forever.
Thank you, Edelweiss, for providing this book from Atria Books for review!