HOUSE OF GLASS by Susan Fletcher
Virago (UK), 2018
Callum brought House of Glass to my attention ages ago and now that I’ve finally read it, I have to echo his recommendation and add my own disbelief that this book has flown so under the radar. Fans of Laura Purcell and Sarah Waters, get on this! Correct me if I’m wrong but I don’t think this book ever got a US publisher; it’s a shame, as there is certainly a huge market for this kind of atmospheric British historical fiction over here — a market that is indeed so oversaturated that it’s only natural for some real gems like this to slip through the cracks.
Sort of a slow burn coming of age story à la Jane Eyre meets a modernized Gothic horror novel like The Silent Companions, House of Glass follows Clara, a young woman with osteogenesis imperfecta living in London with her stepfather in the wake of her mother’s death in 1914. She becomes entranced with gardening and is eventually summoned to a manor in Gloucestershire with the task of curating a private greenhouse for the eccentric, frequently absent owner. This is the first time Clara has really left home or done anything on her own given the limitations that her disorder has caused in her life, so it’s partially a novel about Clara finding her way in the world; and it’s also partially a Gothic mystery as Clara attempts to uncover the secrets of Shadowbrook manor.
Again, this novel is quite the slow burn; the mystery element isn’t even introduced until partway through; you do spend quite a bit of time on Clara’s childhood and background. But I do think that ultimately serves the themes of the story quite nicely so I don’t think that’s a negative at all; I just want to firmly clarify that this is a mystery novel much more than it is any kind of thriller.
Susan Fletcher’s writing is strong, her characters are brilliantly crafted, and she interacts with tropes and archetypes from the classics — Jane Eyre, Rebecca, Northanger Abbey — in such a deliberate way, I was really won over by how cleverly constructed this book was. It’s certainly a fun and gripping read on the one hand, but its literary merit shouldn’t be underestimated. Just a very solidly good book all around.