Black Lake begins with the end. Marianne takes her daughter, Kate, out of school and then locks herself and her daughter in a never-finished ballroom in the grand manor house they used to live in. We quickly learn Kate’s brother Philip has died. After a number of weeks, the door is broken down and Marianne is taken away. The following chapters flash back to the spring before, told mostly from the perspective of John, her husband, and Philip, though Marianne also has a chapter about two-thirds of the way in.
The large estate, Dulough, that John’s family had occupied since the 1800s had become too expensive to run, so John decides to open the manor house to tourists, and move the family into a small cottage on the grounds. Each member of the family copes with this move differently, but all try and create their own space to compensate– their ‘room of one’s own’. John has his office, Marianne the garden, Philip builds a hideout, and Kate eventually leaves for boarding school. It’s about what a home is, and what that means. It’s also about what it’s like when someone else has control over your home, from the government purchasing control of the manor in the present day, to the flashes of the manor’s history in which the first Philip evicted families from their tenancies during the famine.
There was very little from Kate’s perspective, and her character consequently felt a little thin, particularly in comparison to her brother Philip. It sometimes felt as though she was only there in order to create the end (which comes at the beginning, if that makes sense).
I read this book (indoors) during a thunderstorm and torrential rain, which was pretty perfect for it. It’s set on a rural coast in Ireland – it’s beautiful but wet and isolating. The sense of place is extremely strong in Black Lake. It’s one of those novels in which the place is a character in itself, and you know the story and the (human) characters would be very different if they found themselves elsewhere. The estate (the manor house and the nearby island in particular) also acts as a metaphor for the family in the present day and through the generations. For example the once proud, now crumbling family church, originally built much larger than their needs, is moved from the centre to the edge of the island, as erosion gradually takes the island away. Coming to write this review a few days after finishing it, it is the setting which has stayed with me the most.
Recommended if you enjoy slow, beautiful character-driven novels. Read it on a rainy day with a pot of tea.
I received a free copy of Black Lake from Tinder Press in exchange for an honest review.