Set In Stone
1898. Samuel Godwin, fresh from Art College, is appointed art tutor to 19-year-old Juliana Farrow and her 16-year-old sister Marianne by their widower father, who himself has artistic leanings. He designed his house, Fourwinds, in the Arts and Crafts style with great flair, and commissioned carvings of the four winds from the sculptor Gideon Waring to adorn each facade. But the west wind sculpture is unaccountably missing, which distresses Marianne.
Samuel, infatuated with Marianne, realizes that there is some mystery .Why was Waring suddenly dismissed? What is the reclusive Juliana hiding? Is it to do with her mother’s recent untimely death? Is Charlotte Agnew, the girls’ governess-companion, an ally, or is she, too, hiding something?
Samuel is driven to find out the truth. What he discovers involves incest, illegitimacy, suicide and a tissue of lies which threatens to destroy the entire family.
The book owes a debt to the ‘sensation novels’ of the late 19th century, in particular, Wilkie Collins’ Woman in White. The Victorian atmosphere of mystery and oppression is particularly effective.
The central theme is incest and its concomitant damage, and herein lies the problem. It is aimed at teenage girls. Linda Newbery cannot show incest on stage, where it would be more powerful; instead, the book charts the emotional and psychological fall-out on the family some time after the event.
According to the press release, Linda Newbery ‘refuses to compromise… on subject matter.’ But that’s just what she’s done – pulled her punches emotionally speaking by having the real horrors offstage. I can’t blame her, but the result is a compromise. As an adult book it could have been terrifically powerful. I admire Linda Newbery’s writing, and this book is certainly page-turning but, however carefully the incest is handled, I’m concerned about its suitability for teenage girls.