The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin
Published by Simon & Schuster
When runaway Annaleigh first meets the Twentymans, their offer of employment and lodgings seems a blessing. Only later does she discover the truth. But by then she is already in the middle of a web of darkness and intrigue, where murder seems the only possible means of escape…
I love historical fiction, Dickens, Conrad, Austen, Eliot, Gaskell and Shelley, not forgetting the brilliant Brontë sisters and yet, I have to admit, it’s been a while since I last read a book in this particular genre. However, after reading Sophie Tobin’s The vanishing, I had to ask myself why? Beautifully written, this dark tale of intrigue and deception is set against the backdrop of England’s nineteenth century eerie Yorkshire Moors. Add a brooding Byronic villain who (in the words of Lady Caroline Lamb when referring to Lord Byron) could be best described as “mad, bad and dangerous to know,” a persecuted heroine and a remote setting alluding to aristocratic decay and madness, this atmospheric tale of mystery also bears all the hallmarks of good gothic fiction.
Annaleigh Calvert leaves behind the hustle and bustle of her London life, including her beloved adoptive father, and heads for Yorkshire to take up the position of housekeeper at White Windows, a somewhat decaying mansion nestled among the remote Yorkshire Moors. Annaleigh is also fleeing heartache; only White Windows is not the sanctuary she hoped for. “I felt disappointed,” she said. “I had come here to escape from sadness, and yet the house in that moment seemed the opposite of a place where one could be happy. It seemed to crouch in the rugged landscape, as though cowering from the rain.” Her employers, the Twentyman’s, are a somewhat aloof brother and sister, Marcus and Hester. They appear pleasant enough however all is not as it seems. Hester, slightly melancholic and “colourless, like a water colour executed with too much water” relies on opiates to help her constant headaches. Her brother Marcus, at times arrogant and at others troubled, is a contradictory character yet Annaleigh finds herself strangely drawn to her broody proprietor. “He looked at me, and the keenness of his gaze, needle sharp and perceptive, startled me anew.” Nonetheless, Annaleigh struggles with the isolation of her new home. And why is she warned by the other two resident servants not to get too close to her employers? And, more importantly, where did the previous housekeeper Kate; disappear to – apparently without trace?
Although well paced, I did find The Vanishing somewhat slow to begin with. However, it quickly picked up pace keeping me gripped to the very end. Tobin’s characters are well drawn and her descriptive use of language while both beautiful and haunting is also, at times, amazingly brutal. Through Annaleigh, Tobin explores the historical entrapment of women within domestic space as well as their subjection to patriarchal authority. However, although subservient, as Annaleigh’s position would have dictated at the time, Annaleigh does discover a strong will and strength of character within herself that is refreshingly at odds with her place in society. The Vanishing is a story of love, betrayal and revenge and the perfect read for a cold day in front of a warm fire.