The Glass House: A Novel

Written by Beatrice Colin
Review by Helene Williams

Cicely Pick, with her daughter Kitty in tow, arrives in Argyll, Scotland, in 1912, having traveled from Darjeeling, India, on a mission for her botanical adventurer husband, George. She’s headed to Balmarra House, where her sister-in-law Antonia and her husband Malcolm are very much not expecting them and their many trunks of clothing. Everything is unfamiliar and off by half a beat: the weather, the landscape, the food, the lack of a glad welcome. Even those who live at Balmarra don’t seem comfortable in their surroundings; the old house hasn’t been maintained, and its inhabitants suffer from the same feeling of being outdated and misused.

The expansive greenhouse on the grounds was clearly the priority for deceased scion Edward Pick. His collection of exotic plants is internationally known, and most of his time and funds went into acquiring and growing specimens—not an easy feat in cool, damp Scotland. Kier Lorimer, a newly rich industrialist who lives down the road, complicates Cicely’s task as well as the lives of Antonia and Malcolm; despite class differences and long-held resentments, these disparate characters begin to form connections that reveal their hidden humanity.

Colin expertly describes the land and the lives of those in Argyll and George in India, allowing readers to see and feel the estrangement as well as the attraction between the two worlds and their vastly different approaches to living. With some false starts and many misgivings, the characters begin to show their true selves, peeling away layers of time and mistrust. A bittersweet takeaway from this, Colin’s final book (she passed away in 2019), is that we can all learn to be true to ourselves and vulnerable to others; and that growth doesn’t require a fancy, glassed-in, controlled environment.