The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Written by Jane Healey
Review by Jasmina Svenne

When Hetty Cartwright is put in charge of the mammal collection of a natural history museum which is being evacuated to Lockwood Manor in August 1939, she sees it as an opportunity to prove herself. But almost from the start things go wrong. Lord Lockwood is boorish, the servants resent the extra work, and someone or something seems to be tampering with the exhibits. The only person to welcome Hetty is Lord Lockwood’s daughter Lucy – but Lucy is clearly disturbed by a past even darker than Hetty’s. This debut Gothic novel contains most of the usual tropes – the large, unnerving house; its disagreeable master; a sinister housekeeper; a former resident Madwoman in the Attic; tales of ghosts and demons; and a series of odd events that may or may not have a supernatural cause.

Because of the central relationship of Hetty and Lucy, the author has been compared with Sarah Waters. Unfortunately, Healey doesn’t yet have Waters’ ability to evoke the frisson of suppressed desire through tiny gestures, and occasionally the characterisation of Lucy lets her down. Hetty tells us Lucy is increasingly nervy as the situation deteriorates, but that doesn’t tally with the calm way Lucy discusses her nightmares, without any tics or speech patterns to betray her feelings. A few Americanisms seem out of keeping for the British narrators (snuck, shucked, the confusion of purposefully and purposely). And, if Lucy’s father is a baron (his rank is never made clear), she should be the Hon. Miss Lockwood, rather than Lady Lucy.

However, the climax is well done (though I found the central quarrel between the protagonists slightly underpowered), and the characterisation of Hetty is sound, though some minor characters are more one-dimensional. But Healey shows promise of producing something even more atmospheric in future.