Ashenden, the delightful debut novel from Elizabeth Wilhide, traces the life of a beautiful English house from the time of its building in the late 18th century until the present day, when it lands in the hands of a brother and sister who cannot afford its renovation and upkeep. As they contemplate what to do with the estate, we are transported back through the years to follow the lives of Ashenden’s owners, servants, and community. We meet the man who built the house, his nieces, and the families who take ownership when circumstances force change; some of these people are good and decent, and some are sneaky and dishonest, but all find themselves tied to the house in some vital way.
The beauty of Ashenden lies in the interwoven tales that move us carefully through the years at irregular intervals, giving us intimate glimpses into not only the people who occupied the house but inside the heart of the very building itself. I particularly loved the large Henderson family and the story of Alison’s rebel heart during World War II, but all of the characters are well-written and vivid. We are taken through the Victorian and Edwardian eras into more modern times without losing the essence of what brings the house its soul: its history and its constancy. I found myself wishing I could live within Ashenden’s walls, experiencing its stories and looking for the hidden initials. The ending is surprising and bittersweet, and absolutely perfect. This thoroughly engrossing novel deserves a wide, appreciative readership, and this reader highly recommends it.