Name: Bone China
Author: Laura Purcell
Number of Pages: 433 (Hardback)
Published: September 19th 2019 by Raven Books
Genre: Historical, Gothic
Consumption has ravaged Louise Pinecroft’s family, leaving her and her father alone and heartbroken. But Dr Pinecroft has plans for a revolutionary experiment: convinced that sea air will prove to be the cure his wife and children needed, he arranges to house a group of prisoners suffering from the same disease in the cliffs beneath his new Cornish home. While he devotes himself to his controversial medical trials, Louise finds herself increasingly discomfited by the strange tales her new maid tells of the fairies that hunt the land, searching for those they can steal away to their realm.
Forty years later, Hester Why arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralysed and almost entirely mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try and escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers that her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.
Bone China is another great read from Laura Purcell. I enjoyed both her previous novels so much that I had high hopes for the latest and it really delivered. Her novels offer a taste of Gothic mystery with intriguing characters, beautiful but slightly creepy settings and a hint of something slightly spooky.
The story is set in Cornwall, an isolated old house on the cliffs and in easy reach of the wildness of the sea. At times bleak and imposing, at times beautiful and tranquil.
There are two timelines, both featuring Morvoren House and it’s inhabitants. In the first we meet Hester Why, a woman running away from her past under an assumed name, a well chosen name for I found myself wondering almost straight away, why have you run? What did you do that was so terrible you had to leave your life behind and take a new name? Hester’s reliance on gin and laudanum makes her something of an unreliable narrator.
And this is how Laura Purcell draws you in, for the circumstances surrounding Hester’s flight are gradually revealed, teased in between her current new living situation and the second narrative which follows Miss Pinecroft in her younger days, coming to live at Morvoren with her father as he tries to establish a colony for a group of prisoners from Bodmin jail who have consumption. He wants to find a cure, having lost most of his own family to the disease.
These people are grief-stricken and driven by guilt and the need to make amends.
These distraught characters are touched by grief and loss, then thrown into a place rich in folklore which is revealed through the arrival of Creeda, a young woman who insists she was taken by fairies, or the little people as she calls them, and that somehow she was returned, whereas most people are not so lucky, they’re swapped for a changeling and rarely returned.
The setting, so dramatic and wild, and the inclusion of these sick men dwelling within a cave which can be pretty spooky in itself, especially during the night, and the overwhelming sadness that drives Dr Pinecroft and to some extent his daughter Louise is all really well bought to life.
The isolation of their house on the cliffs also feeds into the mystery and magic of the Cornish coast and the folklore which becomes central to this tale.
I can’t say too much more without venturing into spoiler territory. Bone China is well worth your reading time, and with her new novel Laura Purcell still remains an auto-read author for me.