Friday, April 29, 2011

The Girl in the Gatehouse by Julie Klassen

I don't normally flip to the back of a book when I read but lately several of the books I've read have author's notes and whatsits there that I find interesting. I happened to flip to that page on this book where the author mentions that her story's hero was based on Captain Wentworth from Jane Austen's Persuasion as well as C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower. I blinked, looked up from the page and did something very much looking like this:

Two of my favorite (albeit fictional) nautical heroes smooshed into one man? This is going to be the best book ever.

In The Girl in the Gatehouse, set around the year 1813-1814, twenty-four year old Mariah (because Americans don't know the British pronunciation when it is spelled Maria) Aubrey - a secret author - is banished from her family and home and is sent away to an aunt's estate. She finds she's not really welcome at her new residence either but is at least given somewhere to live as she takes over the dirty, forgotten gatehouse with her former nanny, Dixon. We get the idea that she has done something terribly wrong, but we're not exactly told what and during that time, any social gaffe could have brought about a result like this. Was it the novel writing or something far more serious?

Mariah lives a somewhat pinched life on her small annual income and the gracious free rent provided by her aunt but life becomes even more of a challenge when Mariah's somewhat evil step-cousin Hugh takes over the estate, makes her pay rent, and then leases the main estate to a Captain Matthew Bryant. Captain Bryant is fair and good-hearted but new to money and intent on winning back the girl who rejected him for his lowly stature before he was heroic and rich and this goal is the end all to every action he does.

To pay for her sudden expenses and the addition of Martin, her aunt's hook-handed former servant, Mariah takes up the quill once again and begins publishing novels - under a pseudonym so as not to bring further shame to her family.

With a cast of interesting characters provided by the nearby poorhouse (run by a woman Miss Hannigan would quail under)  including two aged sisters, Mariah begins to learn that there is hope in life no matter what you've been through.

But when Mariah keeps seeing a man running along the rooftop of the poorhouse (sending her messages in semaphore no less) and no one is allowed to recognize his existence...paired with cousin Hugh's dogged search of the entire estate and gatehouse for "something" - the mystery really gets going.

Each chapter begins with a relevant quote, the story of Mariah unfolds slowly, little clue and crumb bit by bit, as well as the real thoughts and feelings about women as authors at that time. Even women in general and how little they could really do for themselves. I almost feel schizophrenic when I try to describe all the elements that come together in this book but it certainly isn't written that way - it's put together very smoothly, everything unfolding at just the right time.

A touch of gothic novel and a touch of Jane Austen this story has enough mystery, romance, hardship and redemption to intrigue you, keep you guessing, and then warm your heart.

And if you haven't read or seen Persuasion - what are you waiting for? While you're at it, the Horatio Hornblower books by C.S. Forester and the films by A&E are also excellent.

This book was provided by Bethany House for the purposes of reviewing, the opinions, however, are entirely mine.


Emily said...

oh my word! I'm in love with Horatio on the movie please go find on netflix or youtube. He is soooooo cute!

Anonymous said...

Ooo! Thanks for this! I am definitely going to check this book out!