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 disease in the caves 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 arrives at Morvoren House to take up a position as nurse to the now partially paralyzed and mute Miss Pinecroft. Hester has fled to Cornwall to try to escape her past, but surrounded by superstitious staff enacting bizarre rituals, she soon discovers her new home may be just as dangerous as her last.
The first and only novel I read by Laura Purcell until now was an ecopy of The Corset in 2018, a novel I absolutely loved. I actually wanted to read The Shape of Darkness and was looking into buying that one but it’s still too expensive in paperback so I settled for Bone China which was released in 2019.
There’s so much that can be said about this novel but I don’t know where to even start or how to review this one. Let’s start at the beginning, with the opening chapters of Bone China introducing the character of Hester Why. That’s not her real name though so ‘why’ indeed! Why is she escaping from London and who from? I wasn’t even very far into this novel and the questions already started to pile up. I would find the answers in the second part of the story after she installs herself at Morvoren House in Cornwall where she’ll take care of an elderly lady Louise Pinecroft who is partially paralysed. The customs and standards at Morvoren House are quite different from the position she was in in posh London, and there’s an overall creepiness added by one of the staff firmly believing in fairies and changelings. Hester doesn’t believe in all that (thank goodness) but it was unsettling that spooky things did happen and that everyone in the household went along believing they had to trick changelings and cast away fairies with bible balls and salt. Who exactly is in danger here?
Ms. Pinecroft is not able to clearly communicate with Hester due to the condition she’s in so she can’t explain why she’s intent on staying in an unheated (read freezing) room where a whole collection of blue and white china is displayed, nor why she she has a tormented look of fear in her eyes when night falls and it’s time for bed. The next part of the novel couldn’t have been a bigger contrast, the shift towards the past shows Louise Pinecroft suddenly as a young and strong woman again, trying to assist her father in finding a cure for consumption (tuberculosis) which they both seem to be immune to. What happened in between the oast and Ms. Pinecroft’s current state and what her obsession is with the china collection when she wasn’t too pleased when her father gave her a tea set at the time explaining that every mistress of a house needed one surely kept me turning those pages.
I was very engaged from the start and the flashbacks to the past – both Hester’s as Louise’s – were very compelling but the present plotline was a bit hit and miss, it raised too many questions and it all got a bit over the top fantastical with sightings and things appearing and disappearing, for me personally it didn’t have to cross the line and go that far. The superstitions – fairies are bad creatures who come to take you away – do serve a purpose in the novel though with the story building up to a shocking ending. An ending that will leave everyone pondering if there was something good to come from it after all.
Overall a very mysterious, atmospheric novel with an unsettling feeling carried over the different timelines.
I bought a paperback copy of this novel. This is my honest opinion.