“On closer inspection it’s obvious that every single one of the apples is rotten, whether they’re brown and speckled with mould, or green-gold and riddled with holes.”
October is the perfect month for a slow burning gothic, and Elizabeth Brooks’s The House in the Orchard (Tin House 2022) is a quick read that hits the spot. While I would like to have seen Peggy’s 1945 timeline have a bit more meat on its bones, the sweetly rendered (can a gothic be sweet) 1876 timeline told through 13-year-old Maude’s diary entries reminded me of a dark Anne of Green Gables and I loved it.
Widowed by the war, Peggy inherits Orchard House, which had been left to her husband by his Aunt Maude. Her father-in-law is horrified and adamant it be sold, but the quaintness of the rustic home speaks to her, and she easily imagines raising her son there. That first night sleep eludes her, and she finds herself reading Aunt Maude’s diary, beginning in January of 1876, when Maude is 13. After both of her parents die, Maude is sent to live with Miss Kitty Greenaway as per her father’s wishes. Her relatives, especially her beloved older brother (Peggy’s crusty father-in-law), are horrified – Miss Greenaway is not well like by the family, but it takes Maude time to put the pieces together as to why.
Despite being told not to trust Miss Greenaway, Maude quickly finds herself charmed by the mysterious woman, her house full of books, and the beautiful grounds. Torn between what she’s being told and what she experiences at Orchard House, Maude is determined to learn the truth.
The gothic unfolds slowly, initially barely brushing the pages with secrets and whispers, ghosts on the stairs and spooky cellars, but the strokes get darker and darker as we spiral toward the conclusion. It’s a satisfying gothic with an ending that leaves you wondering, even after all those years, who to trust and how much can depend on the translation of a Latin phrase inscribed on a bracelet.
Read this book.