All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The House Of Brides by Jane Cockram

on January 20, 2020

The House Of Brides 
Jane Cockram
Harlequin AUS
2019, 356p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Miranda’s life and career has been a roller-coaster ride. Her successful rise to the top of the booming lifestyle industry as a social media influencer led to a humiliating fall after a controversial product she endorsed flopped. Desperate to get away from the hate-spewing trolls shaming her on the internet, she receives a mysterious letter from a young cousin in England that plunges her into a dark family mystery.

Miranda’s mother Tessa Summer, a famous author, died when Miranda was a child. The young woman’s only connection to the Summer family is through Tessa’s famous book The House of Brides—a chronicle of the generations of women who married into the infamous Summer family and made their home in the rambling Barnsley House, the family’s estate. From Gertrude Summer, a famed crime novelist, to Miranda’s grandmother Beatrice, who killed herself after setting fire to Barnsley while her children slept, each woman in The House of Brides is more notorious than the next. The house’s current “bride” is the beautiful, effervescent Daphne, her Uncle Max’s wife—a famed celebrity chef who saved Barnsley from ruin turning the estate into an exclusive culinary destination and hotel.

Curious about this legendary family she has never met, Miranda arrives at Barnsley posing as a prospective nanny answering an advertisement. She’s greeted by the compelling yet cold housekeeper Mrs. Mins, and meets the children and her Uncle Max—none of whom know her true identity. But Barnsley is not what Miranda expected. The luxury destination and award-winning restaurant is gone, and Daphne is nowhere to be found. Most disturbing, one of the children is in a wheelchair after a mysterious accident. What happened in this house? Where is Daphne? What darkness lies hidden in Barnsley?

This is February’s book for an online book club I am a part of and help run behind the scenes. I have heard rather a lot about this book in recent times as it’s been praised by several authors. I quite like the cover so I was pretty interested to give this a go and see what I thought.

It’s obviously (like, really obviously) strongly inspired by books like Rebecca and Jane Eyre and basically anything else where a young woman comes to a mysterious house and discovers that all is not as it seems and there are probably some sinister things going on behind the scenes. I mean the character that owns the house in this book is named Maximilian (Max) Summer. That’s not even subtle. There’s also a formidable housekeeper referred to only by Mrs Mins, a missing wife and a bunch of other weird things going on.

At the beginning of the book, Miranda is a ‘fallen influencer’. Once boasting a following of almost 100,000 followers on social media, she put her name to and her faith in a fertility app and ended up losing everything. Her wealthy father has managed to pull some strings to get her another job but when Miranda discovers a letter from a relation of her (deceased) mother’s begging for help at Barnsley House, the family homestead, she steals her father’s credit card and books herself a business class flight to London, ditching the job and showing up at the household. She’s mistaken for a candidate to be a new nanny and secures that job under false pretenses.

Miranda is horrible. An immature, selfish, self-absorbed bore of a woman who never once takes responsibility for her actions. She is incredibly unlikeable from the time she can’t even be bothered to put her father’s car in the garage as he requests when she drives it to the time she steals his credit card details (do you know how much a business class flight Sydney or Melbourne to London is?!) and right to the end of the book. She’s in her mid-twenties and she seems to epitomise everything people hate about her generation and fits neatly into the stereotype people are trying to break. She’s so entitled and sneaky that when it looked like someone might do her harm at the big family pile, I almost hoped they’d succeed.

Miranda’s mother fled her home and England and penned a book about Barnsley and the remarkable women that have been its mistress, entitled The House of Brides. This is all Miranda really has of her mother and I think it’s fed something of an obsession through her life. She lost her mother at a young age, her father remarried swiftly and had two more children with his second wife. Miranda is seemingly viewed as a disappointment (although from her actions witnessed in this novel, it’s not too hard to imagine why) even though one conversation with her mother as a child makes her believe that she’ll be extraordinary. I think Miranda feels there’s a pretence for escaping to England, by way of checking on the welfare of a family member that she didn’t know existed five minutes before she books a flight the heck out of Australia but I think it was just about escape. She thought she was destined for something spectacular, she built influence on social media, it crashed and burned and then she didn’t want the executive assistant job her father had pulled strings for her to get. She wanted something more, something better, like a palatial pile on the other side of the world.

The mystery isn’t even really that interesting and often information is imparted to the reader in clunky ways. The stuff with the housekeeper is not weird enough to be shocking and Max is like some creepy old uncle you want to avoid at family functions, his behaviour making me wonder if he was trying to hit on Miranda or make her think that he might have murdered his wife/murder her/etc. There’s a large portion of the book devoted to wondering where Max’s wife is (well mostly just Miranda, Max himself doesn’t really seem to care all that much) and then that just fizzles out in a really unsatisfying and lacklustre way. The way in which lack of information forms most of the plot really bothered me – no one will tell Miranda what her duties are, people just wander away mid-conversation or pretend they haven’t heard questions, she keeps looking for Daphne and no one else really seems all that bothered until the very end, something will drop but then it’s just ignored for a large portion of time while other, tedious things are examined or imparted in great detail. People just show up and leave at will without rhyme or reason (perhaps this is all part of the ‘gothic ambiguity’ but instead it was just infuriating and Miranda isn’t anywhere near a forceful enough personality to carry this novel as she just wafts around mostly asking questions in her head instead of grabbing a relevant person, sitting them down and actually asking pertinent questions and getting relevant answers, especially in relation to the fact that she is caretaker for three grieving, impressionable, confused young children). And also Max is supposed to care about his kids but doesn’t know enough about them to even buy their Christmas presents alone.

I feel as though this book needed a much clearer direction and perhaps a stronger edit to bring the ideas together in a more cohesive fashion and cut out a lot of the jumping back and forth and tie the plot points together a bit more, eliminating a lot of the stuff that gets dropped or peters out inexplicably. Unfortunately I cannot say that I enjoyed this one, there’s just too much happening that is of little consequence and the character chosen to lead it all just made me want to put the book down, not become more engaged with it.


Book #8 of 2020

The House Of Brides is the 2nd book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

7 responses to “Review: The House Of Brides by Jane Cockram

  1. I’ve had this sitting there for months, sent to me for review, but I’ve yet to read a single review that entices me to pick it up! I think I might just give it a miss…

  2. Marg says:

    Shame! I was intending to try to read this one for the bookclub.

  3. Agree with just about everything you said!

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