Mrs England by Stacey Hall

A journey in the English countryside, as hinted by the title.

Themes: historical fiction, Gothic, mystery/thriller

The synopsis

Ruby May is starting her work at Hardcastle House as the nurse of Charles and Lilian England’s children. But she soon realises that the place is less beautiful than it first seems, with Mrs England behaving strangely and not paying much attention to her children. Ruby will have to overcome her past in order to discover the mystery surrounding the family and avoid her past to become true again.

The review

We meet Ruby who is a young nurse starting a new job after her former employers left for the United States. We travel with her in West Yorkshire and discover the English countryside thanks to a beautiful and very descriptive writing. There are a lot of historical details which are necessary in my opinion when you place your plot in a different era. Thanks to them, we perfectly imagine how England was at the beginning of the 20th century but also how its society worked. I liked the idea of Ruby being a Norland nurse since I just learned a bit about this institution and it allows an almost complete isolation of Ruby from the rest of the characters. Indeed, she’s not a part of the family but is not a regular employee either since nurses had a special status like governesses and tutors. She’s also not the average nurse since she graduated from the Norland Institution which is the equivalent of Oxford for nurses. This social isolation is underlined by the setting since the Englands are living in a remote house, surrounded by woods. So, it’s pretty much the usual setting of a thriller.

Mrs England is a really slow paced book so first you just think that Mrs England is the regular bourgeoise who likes her children but only care a bit about them when they are brought to her at tea time. Obviously, there’s more to the story and you soon realise that her behaviour is very strange, as everything happening in the house. Even Ruby seems to keep a secret which the reader discovers little by little as the mystery around the England family becomes clearer.

Despite these promising elements and the writing that I actually enjoyed, this book was a miss for me. I felt really uneasy while reading some passages which were just unhealthy and not in the positive way you feel when reading a thriller. The athmosphere wasn’t gothic enough to compensate the pace that was atrociously slow. In fact, nothing happens between the arrival of Ruby to Hardcastle House and the last hundred pages. I wasn’t even surprised by the end while I’m usually the first to discover everything at the same time as the characters.

In brief: warning for the pace of the book which is very slow. I really enjoyed the setting and the characters which were enough developed and intriguing to keep me reading the book despite the lack of action (although I have to admit that I practiced skim reading for the last half of the book).

My rating: 3/5

Warnings: domestic abuse

4 thoughts on “Mrs England by Stacey Hall”

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