Review book The Secret By The Lake and other stories
by former Nailsea resident Louise Douglas
THE ROOM IN THE ATTIC
Loving secrets and lies ... by page 27 I had read about despair, deaths and disability in this gripping ghost story by North Somerset author Louise Douglas.
But were they all for real?
The Secret By The Lake is her sixth book and her best by far with echoes of Emily Brontë (someone outside at the window trying to get in), Daphne du Maurier (strange waterside dwelling and dead bodies) and Margaret Atwood (psychological thriller) with some exquisite descriptive prose and a polished plot.
Set in the early 1960s with flashbacks to a former age is starts with a ‘stolen’ necklace and ends with saving souls.
It portrays British family life from working class northern beginnings with a tense father/daughter relationship to a rural West Country subsistence existence with an idyll Francophile interlude.
On paper sometimes the plot and/or traits of the characters seem eerily to have real-life parallels and you are the voyeur caught in a tangle of deceit playing detective.
There are loose ends which shout sequel to me - missing mothers, Algerian angle and the elderly aunt left in Paris could do with being explored more – oh! and how did all the children turn out?
Our heroine’s walks by the lake, lovemaking in the lodge and her care for fellow creatures great and small are lovely but there are dark forces at work and a long journey before finding happiness.
'Beautifully written, chillingly atmospheric and utterly compelling, The Secret by the Lake is Louise Douglas at her brilliant best,' Tammy Cohen, author of The Broken
'A master of her craft, Louise Douglas ratchets up the tension in this haunting and exquisitely written tale of buried secrets and past tragedy,' Amanda Jennings, author of Sworn Secret
'A clammy, atmospheric and suspenseful novel, it builds in tension all the way through to the startling final pages,' Sunday Express, S Magazine
This book intensified my dislike of officialdom and poverty but the ‘norms’ of an age are so accurately recounted from the cost of grocery to the social etiquette of the time.
From a feminist perspective the portrayal of supportive women in harsh condition was heart-warming.
But we learn children should be seen and not heard wasn’t only for the Victorians - it existed in more modern times.
The lake in the book mirrors Blagdon and there are mentions of the Mendips hills.
At 400 plus pages while I wanted it to end at the point when the misery of grief was overwhelming then I didn’t because I wanted to know more about what happened next – it was a book once begun you can’t put down.
The author was born in Sheffield, Yorkshire, but moved to North Somerset when she was 18 and has stayed here ever since.
Her three grown-up sons all went to school in Nailsea although the family has since decanted to Chew Magna.
Her first novel, The Love of My Life, was longlisted for both the ‘romantic novel of the year award’ and the Waverton Good Read Award, and her second, Missing You, won the People’s Choice Award at the Romantic Novelists’ Association Pure Passion Awards 2010.
In 2010, Louise joined Transworld, who published her third book, The Secrets Between Us.
This book was selected for the Richard and Judy Summer Read 2012.
Her fourth book, In Her Shadow, was published in paperback in August 2013 and the fifth is Your Beautiful Lies.
Louise still has her day job with aircraft manufacturer Airbus.
A ROOM IN THE ATTIC
A child who does not know her name…
In 1903 fishermen find a wrecked boat containing a woman, who has been badly beaten, and a young girl.
An ambulance is sent for, and the two survivors are taken to All Hallows, the imposing asylum, hidden deep on Dartmoor.
The woman remains in a coma, but the little girl, Harriet, awakens and is taken to an attic room, far away from the noise of the asylum, and is put in the care of Nurse Emma Everdeen.
Two motherless boys banished to boarding school…
In 1993, All Hallows is now a boarding school. Following his mother’s death and his father’s hasty remarriage,
Lewis Tyler is banished to Dartmoor, stripped of his fashionable clothes, shorn of his long hair, and left feeling more alone than ever.
There he meets Isak, another lost soul, and whilst refurbishment of the dormitories is taking place, the boys are marooned up in the attic, in an old wing of the school.
Cries and calls from the past that can no longer be ignored…
All Hallows is a building full of memories, whispers, cries from the past. As Lewis and Isak learn more about the fate of Harriet, and Nurse Emma’s desperate fight to keep the little girl safe, it soon becomes clear there are ghosts who are still restless.
Are they ghosts the boys hear at night in the room above, are they the unquiet souls from the asylum still caught between the walls?
And can Lewis and Isak bring peace to All Hallows before the past breaks them first…
I began reading this book with great expectations as Louise Douglas is one of my favourite authors.
And this gripping schoolboy yarn with its surreal turn-of-the-century melodrama didn’t disappoint.
Dickensian descriptions juxtaposition with contemporary conversations, it is a mysterious, gothic ghost story spanning time and settings.
There is the asylum on Dartmoor converted to an austere boarding school - a bleak house which is ‘home’ to some lost souls.
A needy little girl with memory loss and a misunderstood teenaged boy with big ears with 90 years separating their stories.
I sense not the friendships of Tom Brown’s schooldays but more Nicholas Nickleby with some Brontë influences and a tabloid exposé thrown in as the characters through the century are linked.
The creaking rocking chair, the feminist writer confined to a mad house by disapproving parents this is psychological whodunnit through the ages.
It is descriptive, especially of physical appearances and of the cold comfort surroundings, as it interweaves the past and the present which is in first person narrative.
And the ghostly guidance of a dead mother appears in italics.
But there are some warm, lasting friendships made.
As I neared the end of the 400-pages my anticipation was mounting, who would need rescuing, will goodness prevail, will it have a happy ending, the possibilities seem endless.
It was impossible to second guess where it was going as each alternating past and present chapter revealed in bite size portions another piece of the jigsaw.
It reminded me in parts of the French Lieutenant’s Woman - what was truth and what was just my imagination or rather that of the writer.
Thoroughly enjoyable couldn’t put it down.
THE HOUSE BY THE SEA
This Nailsea friend pens her books under the name of Louise Douglas who I meet when she lived in Porlock Gardens, opposite Sandy Taylor another prolific local writer.
'Louise' describes her books as 'contemporary Gothic novels which are usually inspired by places close to where I live in the Mendips, close to Bristol in the UK, or by places I've visited, especially Italy and Sicily'.
She said: "The House by the Sea won the Jackie Collins Romantic Suspense Award in 2021."
"The Love of My Life, my first book, was longlisted for the Romantic Novel of the Year Award.
"My second book, Missing You, won the RNA Readers' Choice Award, and my third, The Secrets Between Us was a 2012 Richard and Judy Summer Read.
"The Room in the Attic due to be published in October 2021 and is a ghost story set in a Victorian asylum-turned-boarding school on Dartmoor."
Such a popular writer with a modern twist of Agatha Christie with a touch of spooky!
However, Louise's latest book is the best.
Called The House By The See it is an page-turning novel.
When I put it down I wrote to my friend: "Just finished your homo-friendly Hitchcock book.
"Really enjoyed Rebecca meets Jane Eyre and then PSYCHO all served with delicious slices of Sicilian pizza in a lush setting.
"However, first thing I would have done was kill mafioso-style the fucking mice in the piano, no mercy, and fumigated the palatial but crumbling villa.
"Really liked the way all the characters are drawn - believable yarn that would make great film."
Available on Amazon priced £8.99 in paperback.