Bone China begins with the story of “Hester Why”, a nursemaid who has fled to Cornwall under a false name, leaving behind in London a mistress she loved and a trail of deceased former charges. When she moves to Cornwall, to the mysterious house on the cliffs that is to be her new home, she discovers a household that believes in fairies and an elderly charge, Louise Pinecroft, who will not communicate and must be locked in. The novel switches between Hester’s story in the present day, her recent placement in London, and Cornwall forty years earlier, when Louise was a young woman assisting her grieving father in treating prisoners with consumption.
I was thrilled to get the opportunity to review Laura Purcell’s latest release, not least because I reviewed her debut The Silent Companions in 2018 and enjoyed it very much. Bone China has been described as a “Daphne Du Maurier-esque thriller” but, unfortunately, I didn’t think that it lived up to either The Silent Companions, or to the gothic masterpieces of Du Maurier. The time switches mean that there are loose ends in both the past and the present that remain unconnected, and characters that are not fully explored. Rational characters in both timelines suddenly and abruptly give themselves over to superstitious beliefs for no apparent reason. However, my biggest issue with Bone China was that it simply wasn’t scary. I read to discover the secrets, but with no real sense of dread.
Laura Purcell remains a talented writer, and the prose and dialogue are both well-written, particularly in the London scenes which contained the true horror of the novel. I will look out for her next novel, but for those new to her work, I would recommend The Silent Companions rather than this one.