From Irish children’s author Parkinson, a present-day gothic that takes us into a gloomy country house haunted by the memory of a dead child.
When young Niamh first arrives at the remote country estate of Platen, it seems to her one of the gloomiest yet most enchanting places she has ever seen. A newly certified hospital nurse, Niamh has been hired to care for Taggart, the dying master of the estate, by Taggart’s parvenu wife, Elise. Innocent and artless, Niamh enters Platen as one stepping into an alien world, and she notes all of the household eccentricities with the sharp eye of an outsider. Elise’s too-practiced devotion to her doomed husband stands out at first glance, as does Taggart’s weary stoicism. But lurking behind the careful order of the place are hints of some deep-buried sorrow. What were the true circumstances surrounding the death of Elise’s niece Miriam, who passed away nine years ago at Platen in an incident everyone refers to as “tragic” but refuses to discuss directly? Small-town folk can be very tight-lipped, but this is Ireland, after all, so Niamh manages to pick up details here and there from the local gossips—and from the archives of the local and foreign press, which turn out to have reported the “scandal” in fairly minute detail. It happens that Miriam’s death sets off a string of griefs in her family, and these troubles—which the author obviously sees as emblematic of Irish society in the 1980s—have cast a long shadow down to the present. For Niamh, who is just beginning to live as an adult woman in an adult world, Miriam’s troubles seem to hold the key to some of her own as well.
Fresh, original, and carefully wrought: Parkinson’s tale generates a true sense of foreboding and dread without falling into pathos or stepping into incoherence.