(from the book jacket)
The enigmatic Vida Winter has spent six decades creating various outlandish life histories for herself – all of them inventions that have brought her fame and fortune but have kept her violent and tragic past a secret. Now old and ailing, she at last wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. She summons biographer Margaret Lea, a young woman for whom the secret of her own birth, hidden by those who loved her most, remains an ever-present pain. Struck by a curious parallel between Miss Winter’s story and her own, Margaret takes on the commission.
As Vida disinters a life she meant to bury for good, Margaret is mesmerized. It is a tale of gothic strangeness featuring the Angelfield family, including the beautiful and willful Isabelle, the feral twins, Adeline and Emmeline, a ghost, a governess, a topiary garden, and a devastating fire.
This book seems to take place outside of time. It has an old feel to everything but a date is never mentioned and there are no historical facts to help place it. And I kind of like that. It adds to the surreal feel of the book that makes it slightly spooky and foreboding. You know there is something Vida Winter has spent her whole life avoiding and the dark feel of the book makes you almost dread finding out what it is at the same time that it pulls you in and keeps you reading. You try to imagine what the secret is that could be so bad. I, for one, never did. I followed along though all the twists and turns and watched as all the pieces started to fall into place and was surprised by the answers at the end. Are there elements in this story that are completely improbable? Yes. But the story is well written and entertaining and that’s all that matters. I like the way that the narrator’s love of books works itself into the story and makes it, even more so, a book for book lovers. There were a few moments when I was afraid it was going to drag but they passed quickly and by then I was hooked anyway and needed to know what happened so I couldn’t have stopped reading even if I had wanted to.