Bleakly Hall

Written by Elaine di Rollo
Review by Ann Northfield

After reviewing and very much enjoying Ms di Rollo’s first novel, A Proper Education for Girls, I eagerly awaited this, her second foray into fiction. Thankfully I was not at all disappointed and am now already keenly anticipating a third book from her talented pen.

The novel, told partly in flashbacks, follows the story of Monty, Nurse Montgomery, during the First World War and afterwards when she goes to Bleakly Hall, which is a failing hydropathic hotel run by two brothers, one of whom was crippled in the war. She is reunited there with her friend, ambulance driver Ada, and more of their adventures are revealed.

Monty has a score to settle with one of the inhabitants, a Captain Foxley who is fighting his own terrible memories and bad demons from the tragedy of the war that altered forever or ended so many people’s lives. The Gothic-style setting of run-down country manor adds to the atmosphere as disembodied voices are heard through the pipes even as a psychic medium is attempting to contact one of the scores of the dead for their grieving friends and relatives left behind.

Di Rollo has a really distinctive voice, at times sardonic and amusing but also managing to elicit clearly the full horror and trauma of the experiences undergone by nurses and soldiers in places such as Ypres and the Somme. Tragic and humorous in equal measure, this novel is also really well researched and beautifully written with a deep feel for the era coming through. Very highly recommended indeed.