Even before her baby sister Victoria disappeared from Tyringham Park in 1917, young Charlotte’s life was not pleasant. Unloved by her overbearing mother, ignored by her father, and bullied by the ultimate nightmare of a nanny, Charlotte grows up in a disturbed atmosphere wherein her mother sees her as competition and nasty secrets threaten almost everyone. Even her burgeoning talent as an artist comes under fire as she grows; her relationship with tutor Cormac, the only positive in her life, is cut off, and Charlotte finds herself clinging to anyone and anything who might offer her comfort. When she attaches herself to her brother’s friend, she is “exiled” to Australia to start a new life and to “find” Victoria, whom her mother believes was kidnapped all those years ago. If Charlotte’s life can become more complicated and dismal, it would be astonishing.
Though the time period and general setting of Tyringham Park are roughly akin to that of Downton Abbey, the similarities end there. There is not a single character for whom I felt any affection, including the downtrodden Charlotte; while she is not to blame for her circumstances, she allows herself to wallow in them and refuse to pull herself above them. The mystery of Victoria’s disappearance permeates the story and yet the ultimate solution is a letdown. While the writing is engaging enough that I felt compelled to read through to the end, I was sorely disappointed in both the lack of redemption and depth of feeling in the story. There is a lot of potential in this book but it suffers from a cast of characters for whom I felt no attraction or empathy whatsoever.