Title: The House of Brides
Author: Jane Cockram
Published: October 21st 2019
Publisher: Mira – AU
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 3.5 stars
Miranda has had a rough few years. Her successful career as a social media influencer has come crashing down after the controversial flop of her fertility app. Humiliated, she moves reluctantly back home to her judgemental father and cold stepmother’s house to nurse her wounds, feeling more than ever the loss of her mother.
Miranda’s mother, well-known author Tessa Summer, died when Miranda was young, leaving behind her bestselling book The House of Brides – a book that chronicled the generations of brides, each more notorious and tragic than the last, who married into the infamous Summer family and became mistress of the beautiful Barnsley House in England. Miranda does not know her mother’s family, so when a mysterious letter arrives from a young Summer cousin, asking for her help, Miranda’s curiosity about the legendary family (and desire to escape her current situation) prompts her to act.
Posing as a prospective nanny, she is soon living in the heart of the family, but nothing is as she expects. The luxury hotel and world-renowned restaurant created by the most recent ‘bride’, the lovely and effervescent Daphne, is gone. So is Daphne. More disturbing, one of the children is in a wheelchair after a mysterious accident and the sinister housekeeper Mrs Mins seems to have a dark influence over the master of the house.
What happened in this house? Where is Daphne? Will Miranda discover what darkness lies hidden at the heart of this house of brides? And if she does, will she survive it?
With an enticing front cover quote from one of my favourite Australian writers, Sally Hepworth, I was quite ready to be held captive by The House of Brides, written by debut novelist Jane Cockram. This modern day gothic thriller, crossed with a family drama, is a story of loss, identity, career crisis, secrets, tragedy and revelations. An alluring premise set the bar high for Jane Cockram’s first release.
The House of Brides revolves around the lead character of Miranda, a twenty something social media influencer who suffers a career nosedive in the early sequences of the book. This career crisis begins a chain of events that sees Miranda return home with her tail between her legs. Still nursing the loss of her mother, Miranda’s grief is amplified by the loss of her job. A mysterious letter comes into Miranda’s possession at just the right time. This letter comes from Miranda’s cousin requesting help. With a clear absence of information about her mother’s past, this letter may prove to be the key to unlock a whole host of secrets.
The House of Brides has been compared to classic gothic fiction novels such as Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Kate Morton also receives a mention on the back cover of The House of Brides and I was excited by this prospect as I am a big fan of Morton’s work. The House of Brides set off to a galloping start, the premise was intriguing and the final cover was absolutely stunning, it definitely seduced me into reading this one sooner than later!
Cockram is clearly very aware of the key ingredients that are required to craft a successful modern gothic fiction novel. Cockram has a tormented lead protagonist, a creepy but magical old mansion, suspect characters, a ghostly presence and a rich tapestry of past secrets to uncover. All the vital gothic fiction elements were very present in this novel, which I appreciated very much.
In terms of the atmosphere, The House of Brides has a swirling, tension filled, edgy and speculative feel. I had plenty of questions about the characters and events of this novel, which held my interest level. Cockram indulges in lots of descriptive passages, that work to situate the reader in the spiralling events of the tale. I particularly felt like the stately home in this book was rendered well, it had a strong presence in the book, making a solid impression on the reader.
Character wise, The House of Brides has an extensive cast. The protagonist set will keep the reader on their toes. Each character is touched by a sense of unease, or mistrust. I wasn’t quite sure who, or what to believe in some instances of the book. Miranda, the prime protagonist, leads the charge in this novel’s case. She is the conductor of the performance, but I found her hard to like and I couldn’t put my finger on why this was the case. However, it does seem like this is the consensus based on a number of reviewers who have already covered this book.
Structure wise, The House of Brides flits between Miranda, the central protagonist’s point of view, along with diary entries, letters, clippings and a book within a book, ‘The House of Brides’, which was penned by the protagonist’s mother. I thought this was a creative move on behalf of the author. However, I will have to be honest and admit that I was often confused by the storyline direction, my handle on the narrative definitely slipped. I also found the script in the notebook sequences hard to decipher. Despite this, I was compelled to stay loyal to the book and I was happy to read until the end of this gothic inspired saga.
The House of Brides is a story of family connections, dark secrets, scandal, complications and disclosure. Jane Cockram’s first novel will be sure to reel in devoted gothic fiction, or family drama readers.
The House of Brides by Jane Cockram was published on 21st October 2019 by Mira – AU. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
*I wish to thank Harlequin Australia for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The House of Brides is book #139 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge