A secret history. A long-ago summer. A house with an untold story.
Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s Cornish country house, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, one terrible day, it does.
More than three decades later, Lorna is determined to be married within the grand, ivy-covered walls of Pencraw Hall, known as Black Rabbit Hall among the locals. But as she’s drawn deeper into the overgrown grounds, she soon finds herself ensnared within the house’s labyrinthine history, overcome with a need for answers about her own past and that of the once-golden family whose memory still haunts the estate.
Eve Chase's debut novel is a thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by the dark and tangled secrets of Black Rabbit Hall.
|Publisher:||Penguin Random House Audio Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 5.90(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Eve Chase is an exciting new voice in fiction. She lives in Oxford, England with her husband and three children.
Read an Excerpt
Last day of the summer holidays, 1969, Cornwall
I feel safe on the cliff ledge, safer than in the house, anyway. Afew feet from the coast path, it's a twenty-minute scramble from the edge of the estate, far enough from Black Rabbit Hall's watching win dows, a secret place. I hover on the cliff above it for a moment or two, wind snapping my dress against my legs, soles of my feet tingling, then lower myself carefully, gripping the clumps of grass, sea roaring in my ears. (Best not to look down.) One small heart-stop drop and I'm perching right on the edge of sky. Jump too wide, it's all over. I wouldn't do it. But it occurs to me that I like the fact I could. That I have some control over my destiny today.
Pressed against the cliff wall, I finally catch my breath. So much frantic searching: woods, rooms, endless stairs. Heels rubbed raw in too-small tennis shoes. And I still haven't found them. Where are they? Shading my eyes from the sky dazzle with my hand, I scan the bottle-green cliff tops on the other side of the cove. Deserted. Only cattle in the fields. I inch down then, spine against the rock, and hitch up my dress, brazenly, so that air tunnels through my bare bent legs.
Still at last, I can't outrun the events of the day any longer. Even the sound of the waves on the rocks makes my slapped cheek sting afresh. I blink and there is the house, silhouetted on the inside of my eyelids. So I try to keep my eyes open and let my mind loose in the vast pink sky, where the sun and moon hang like a question and an answer. Iforget that Iam meant to be searching. That minutes move faster than clouds at dusk. I think only of my own escape. I don't know how long I sit there, my thoughts pierced by a huge black bird diving over the cliff, so close its talons might catch in my hair. Iinstinctively duck in its wing draft, nose meeting the cool skin of my knees. And when I look up my gaze is no longer on the sky but on flotsam bob bing on the high tide swell below.
No, not flotsam. Something more alive. A dolphin? Or those jelly fish that have been washing up in our cove all week, like a lost cargo of gray glass bowls? Maybe. I lean forward, dipping my face over the edge to get a better view, hair blowing wildly, heart beating a little faster, starting to sense something terrible shifting just below the shimmer ing blue surface, not quite seeing it. Not yet.
More than three decades later
It is one of those journeys. The closer they get to their destination, the harder it is to imagine that they'll ever actually arrive. There is always another bend in the road, a judder to the dead end of a farm track. And it is getting late, too late. Warm summer rain is drumming on the roof of the car.
"I say we cut our losses and head back to the Band B." Jon cranes over the steering wheel to get a better view of the road liquefying behind the windscreen. "Grab a pint and plan a wedding somewhere within the M25. What do you reckon?"
Lorna draws a house with her fingertip in the condensation on the window. Roof. Chimney Squiggle of smoke. "Don't think so, darling."
"Somewhere with a sunny microclimate, perhaps?"
"Ha. Funny." Despite the disappointments of the day so far-none of the wedding venues has lived up to expectation, too much over priced chintz-Lorna is quite happy. There is something exhilarating about driving through this wild weather with the man she is to marry, just the two of them cocooned in their wheezing little red Fiat. When they're old and gray they'll remember this journey, she thinks. Being young and in love and in a car in the rain.
"Great." Jon frowns at a looming dark shape in the mirror. "All I need now is a massive bloody tractor up my backside." He stops at a crossroads, where various signs, bent by the wind, point in directions that bear little relation to the angle of the corresponding roads. "Now where?"
"Are we lost?" she teases, enjoying the idea.
"The satnav is lost. We seem to have gone off grid. Only in your beloved Cornwall."
Lorna smiles. Jon's is a boyish, uncomplicated grumpiness, one that will evaporate with the first sign of the house, or a cold beer. He doesn't internalize things, like she does, or make obstacles symbolic of other stuff.
"Right." He nods at the map on Lorna's lap, which is scattered with biscuit crumbs and folded haphazardly. "How are your map-reading skills coming along, sweetheart?"
"Well ..." She scrabbles the map open, bouncing the crumbs off to join the empty water bottles rolling on the sandy car floor. "According to my rough cartological calculations, we're currently driving through the Atlantic."
Jon huffs back in his seat, stretches out his legs, too long for the small car. "Brilliant."
Lorna leans over, strokes his thigh where muscle fades the denim. She knows he's tired of driving down unfamiliar roads in the rain, touring wedding venues, this one, farthest away, hardest to find, saved for last. They would be on the Amalfi Coast if she hadn't insisted that they come to Cornwall instead. If Jon's patience is wearing thin, she can hardly blame him.
Jon proposed back at Christmas, months ago, pine needles crunch ing beneath his bended knee. For a long time, that was enough. She loved being engaged, that state of blissful suspension: they belonged to each other, but they still woke up every morning and chose to be together. She worried about jinxing that easy happiness. Anyway, there was no mad rush. They had all the time in the world.
Then they didn't. When Lorna's mother died unexpectedly in May, grief punched her back to earth and the wedding suddenly felt inescapably, brutally urgent. Her mother's death was a reminder not to wait. Not to put things on hold or forget that a black date is circled on everyone's calendar, flipping ever closer. Disorienting but also oddly life-affirming, it made her want to grab life in her fists, totter through the litter of Bethnal Green Road on a drizzly Sunday morning in her lucky red heels. This morning she wiggled herself into a sunshine yellow vintage sixties sundress. If she can't wear it now, when?
Jon changes gears, yawns. "What's the place called again, Lorna?" "Pencraw," she says brightly, trying to keep his spirits up, mindful that if it were up to Jon they'd simply stuff his large, sprawling family into a marquee in his parents' Essex garden and be done with it. Then they'd move down the road, near his adoring sisters-swapping their tiny city flat for a suburban house with a lawn sprinkler-so his mother, Lorraine, could help with all the babies that would swiftly follow. Thankfully, it is not up to Jon. "Pencraw Hall."
He runs a hand through his corn-colored hair, sun-bleached almost white at the tips. "One more shot?"
She beams back. She loves this man.
"To hell with it, let's go this way. We've got a one-in-four chance of getting it right. Hopefully we'll shake the tractor." He presses his foot hard on the gas.
They don't shake it.
The rain continues to fall. The windscreen is mashed with cow parsley petals, pushed into snowy drifts by the squeaking wipers. Lor na's heart beats a little faster beneath the crisp cotton of her dress.
Even though she can't see much beyond the rivulets of rain running down the window, she knows that the wooded valleys, river creeks, and deserted little coves of the Roseland Peninsula lie beyond the glass, and she can sense them already, hulking out there in the mist. She remembers being on these roads as a kid-they visited Corn wall most summers-and how the sea air would rush through the wound-down window, blowing away the last trapped bits of grimy Greater London, and the stitch of tension on her mother's face.
An anxious woman, her mother suffered from insomnia all her life: the seaside seemed to be the only place she could sleep. When Lorna was little, she wondered if the Cornish air swirled with strange sleepy fumes, like the poppy field in The Wizard of Oz. Now a small voice in her head cannot help wondering if it swirls with family secrets. But she decides to keep this thought to herself.
"Are you sure this old pile actually exists, Lorna?" Jon's arms are straight and stiff at the wheel, eyes reddening with strain.
"It exists." She pulls up her long, dark hair, twisting it into a top knot. A few strands escape, fringing her pale neck. She feels the heat of his glance: he loves her neck, the soft baby skin just below her ears.
"Remind me again." His eyes return to the road. "Some old manor house you visited with your m urn while on holiday down here?" "That's right." She nods enthusiastically.
"Your mum enjoyed a stately, I know that." He frowns up at the mirror. The rain is falling in undulating silver sheets now. "But how can you be sure it's this one?"
"Pencraw Hall popped up on some online wedding directory. I recognized it straightaway."
Already so many things have faded-the hyacinth notes of her mother's favorite perfume, the exact click of her tongue as she searched for her reading glasses-but in the last few weeks other memories, long forgotten, seemingly random, have come into unexpected bright focus. And this is one of them. "Mum pointing up at this big old house. The look of awe in her eyes. It sort of stuck with me." She swivels the diamond engagement ring on her finger, remembering other things too. A pink-striped paper bag of fudge heavy in her hand. A river. "Yes, I'm almost certain it's the same house."
"Almost?" Jon shakes his head, laughs, one ofhis big belly laughs that rumble against his ribs. "God, I must love you."
Reading Group Guide
Questions for Discussion
1. Lorna and Amber are two very different women at very different places in their lives, but both are forever changed by events that occur at Black Rabbit Hall. In what ways are these women similar? How are they different? Did you relate to one character more than the other?
2. As children, Amber and Toby are almost inseparable, but after their mother’s death they both change dramatically—Amber reflects that she “no longer feel[s] like a girl inside” (p. 93), and Toby becomes increasingly angry and wild. Why do you think the twins grow apart, instead of together? Do you think they would have stayed close if Momma had lived? Why or why not?
3. During her first visit to Black Rabbit Hall, Lorna discovers a horse’s skull displayed in the library. Why do you think Mr. and then Mrs. Alton kept this, and why is it displayed so visibly? Do you agree with their choice? Jon comments, “This lot would stuff their own ancestors, given half a chance.” What do you think he means?
4. Which Alton sibling is your favorite? Why? Which sibling do you most identify with? Are they the same character?
5. When the novel begins, Amber is fourteen. After the Alton family tragedy, however, she is forced to grow up quickly and take responsibility for her siblings. How do you think this responsibility affects her relationship with Lucian? How did you respond to their relationship? Did you have a “first love,” and if so, did you relate to Amber’s feelings? Why or why not?
6. Lorna is enchanted by Black Rabbit Hall, knowing from the beginning this is where she’d like to be married. But as she explores, she feels more and more drawn to the family that lived there. Why did you first think she felt so tied to the Alton children? Is there somewhere from your family’s past that you won’t ever forget? Have you explored your own family history, and if so, did you find anything surprising?
7. Discuss the character of Caroline Alton. She admits to Lorna that she found her stepchildren “unfathomable” (p. 168). Do you think she is a bad stepmother? Are her actions ever justified?
8. As Lorna finds herself pulled further into the hallways and history of Black Rabbit Hall, she feels increasingly distant from Jon. Did you feel frustrated with Lorna’s treatment of the wedding? Did you feel frustrated with Jon? At one point Lorna thinks of an ex who claimed that Lorna “tests” relationships to see if they’re worth saving. Do you think this is true?
9. Nancy Alton remains a beacon of beauty and grace throughout the novel. Why do you think Eve Chase wrote her as an American? In what ways is she different from Caroline? Are the two women ever alike, and should they be?
10. Lorna finds much more than a wedding venue when she finally understands what happened at Black Rabbit Hall. Were you surprised by the ending? How do you feel about the Alton children, decades later?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4.5 Stars! This book started a little slow for me. The Lorna part really didn't become that much a part of the story until later in the book. However, she was important to the book. The early family of the Black Rabbit Hall were very important to the book. At points, it kind of gave off vibes of Cinderella and Flowers in the Attic to me. It was a VERY well written story. Unfortunately, life got in the way and I had to put it down for a few days. Once I got back into it, I could not put it down. It was such a good book. I felt so many emotions for these characters. I laughed, I cried, I hated and I loved. What more can you ask for in a book? I loved it and recommend it. Thanks Penguin Group Putnam for approving my request and to Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest review. I was very entertained and quite enjoyed reading this book.
The story is about a family secret. Poorly written. Disjointed and needed better editing. The story jumps all over the place with no connection until the end. And even then it was confusing. This absolutely can not be compared to Kate Morton . Morton is a much better story teller. Debut book for author. I will not read another book by this author.
Ghosts are everywhere, not just the ghost of Momma in the woods, but ghosts of us too, what we used to be like in those long summers . . . Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family’s country estate, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, of course, it does. More than three decades later, Lorna is determined to be married within the grand, ivy-covered walls of Pencraw Hall, known as Black Rabbit Hall among the locals. But as she’s drawn deeper into the overgrown grounds, half-buried memories of her mother begin to surface and Lorna soon finds herself ensnared within the manor’s labyrinthine history, overcome with an insatiable need for answers about her own past and that of the once-happy family whose memory still haunts the estate. Stunning and atmospheric, this debut novel is a thrilling spiral into the hearts of two women separated by decades but inescapably linked by the dark and tangled secrets of Black Rabbit Hall. Review: What a tragic story. This was a very emotional book to read, my heart went out to this family and all the loss they went through. This is a modern Gothic tale, that includes terrible loss, love and a wicked step-mother. For a debut, I thought this Author did a great job of bringing the reader into the story. Her description of the characters and the Black Rabbit Hall made me feel like I had been to this place and met these people. The story is told from two different points of view; first Amber and her point in time which is the late 1960's and second Lorna and her point in time which is about 1999. I really liked the way the story unfolded, seeing the house and its people through two different POV's. I have to say the past was more compelling, but the way the two interwove at the end was satisfying and happy the story went out on a high note after such a tragic start. I would definitely read the next book this Author puts out, I was hooked from page 1. 4Stars *Received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.*
Black Rabbit Hall is an absorbing family drama full of history, love, tragedy, and suspense set on a gothic Cornish estate. The story is seen through the point of view of Amber and Lorna, two people who feel tied to Black Rabbit Hall for different reasons. While Amber is a teenaged-girl and Lorna is a grown woman, Black Rabbit seems to call to them, even when they wish they could break away. The author does a wonderful job of creating a picture of the house and grounds, so the reader can picture it, feel it, hear it, even smell it. The descriptions are very detailed, sometimes almost to the point of exasperation on the reader's part--we think, "Get on with it! We don't need to know what color the apron was, or what kind of legs are on the wardrobe, or what color a random circle on the globe is!" But what the reader begins to realize is that the author is leaving us little clues. All of the rich detail is actually a trail of breadcrumbs to help us piece together, along with Lorna, what happened at Black Rabbit Hall in the late 1060's. The reader gets to know everyone through Amber's eyes, and then later, to an extent, Lorna's as well. We see events unfold through the course of about two years, and then see Lorna attempt to make sense of these events decades later. Because of the semi-limited points-of-view, a few of the characters can come off as not very well-developed. In actuality we are just seeing these characters from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl, which means she views these people from her own lens. Hugo might seem flat, Caroline like a cliche, and one is never quite sure if Rupert is to be trusted. But that is how Amber sees them. A sense of foreboding permeates this book. The reader just knows something terrible is going to happen. And when it does, the tension is not relieved--it is always there, just in the background, until it begins to build again. Even at the end, when connections are made, people are forgiven, and lives are rebuilt, there is still a feeling of "what if," of sadness over tragedies that did not have to be. This was a book that stayed with me, that pulled me in and did not let go even after I was finished reading. I felt Amber's loss, I felt her confusion, her despair, and her fragile hope. I felt Kitty and Barney's pure young joy in life, and I felt Nancy's deep and true love for her babies. This book begs to be read a second time, to pick out all the clues the author left for the reader. I would definitely recommend it to others, and I feel as though it is an incredible book.
I love a good book full of mystery and the journey of people and how one decision (whether big or small), can change where our paths might lead. Well, this novel had me hooked from the beginning. It didn’t start with a bang, but it definitely had my attention from the very first page. The characters, the location, the house…all of them together made for a fascinating tale of two women and how their lives are connected to Black Rabbit Hall. The two point of views worked well, as Chase was able to pause at just the right moments. I almost skipped to the next sections just to find out what was coming next. Almost. But then I’d start reading and get hooked into the new one. There were many moments when I thought I knew where certain things were going and then Chase would throw in a plot twist or two. While there were some things I wanted more details on towards the end and it wasn’t what I expected from this novel, I still enjoyed what was on these pages instead of my initial thoughts. Have you read this one? What’s a women’s fiction you’ve recently read and enjoyed? (Heads up: some adult material, but nothing too descriptive or gratuitous) Originally posted at http://booksandbeverages.org/2017/02/07/black-rabbit-hall-eve-chase-book-review/
Read more reviews plus some of my ramblings at https://constantlyreadingmomma.com/ Lately it seems like every other book I read has alternating voices in alternating times. It also seems like I should be getting sick of it, but not yet! I really enjoyed Black Rabbit Hall, Eve Chase’s debut novel. Fresh and mysterious and thrilling and lovely all at the same time. Both Amber (Alton) and Lorna are interesting characters with unique voices, although I wish they was a little bit more to both of them. Chase’s use of language is superb, giving readers a setting Black Rabbit Hall that is perfect in 1969 and then a perfect ruin thirty years later. The other characters are incredibly less fleshed out, and there are just too many secondary characters. So many of them had promise, but there none of them were developed well enough to reach their full potential. For instance, Amber’s twin brother Toby. We know just enough about him to fit the story. I wanted more. The same can be said of the ‘evil’ step-mother, Caroline, who is just a little too stereotypical. And Lucius, her son, as the handsome misunderstood step-brother, to whom Amber is drawn. The sub-characters were just too predictable and two-dimensional. But Black Rabbit Hall is very enjoyable; an involved Gothic mystery. I give it 3.5 stars. And I can’t wait to read more for Eve Chase.
I absolutely adored this book!! Black Rabbit Hall is Eve Chase's debut novel. I can't imagine how she will follow it up - but I will be waiting for her next book. 1969: Amber and her siblings live with their parents at Pencraw Hall, affectionately called Black Rabbit Hall by the children. Life is idyllic, until a single stormy night irrevocably changes the direction of their lives forever. 30 years later: Lorna and her fiancé John are driving the back roads of Cornwall (England) hunting for a Pencraw Hall, that advertised itself as a wedding venue. When they finally come across it, Lorna feels a odd sense of.....something....recognition? I love dual narratives, past and present being slowly revealed, until the stories inevitably collide, revealing the final connections and resolution. Amber and Lorna are both wonderful protagonists, each with a distinct voice. I found myself more caught up in the past. Perhaps because it is these events that shape the future? I grew so invested in the lives of the Alton children and found myself cursing the antagonist of the book out loud. I'm trying to not give away too much, but oh my goodness - she is truly, truly nasty. All the absolutely delicious elements of a Gothic tale are in place - a creaky, crumbling old mansion filled with the detritus of its glory days, a cantankerous old woman in situ who has been hanging on to her secrets for many, many years and a housekeeper who has lived her whole life in that mansion as well. Dark woods and overgrown gardens surround the house, adding to the wonderful atmosphere Chase has created. Chase drops clues along the way - single sentences that say so much about what has happened. I found myself talking out loud again - quite saddened by some of those past events. And just as some of those past events are revealed, the narrative changes to the present day. For me, this always guarantees being tired in the morning, as I just have to read 'one more chapter'.....and then another and another. Black Rabbit Hall is hands down one of my fave reads for 2016.
BLACK RABBIT HALL is a unique kind of novel. Part Gothic, part psychological thriller, part romance, it is set in an old manor house in Cornwall England. In the 1960's Amber and her family spend their summers at Black Rabbit Hall. One such summer, tragedy strikes, and her mother dies in a horse accident. Unable to fully care for Amber and her siblings, her father soon remarries an old flame. At first, her new stepmother tries hard to fit in, but the children never warm up to her cool aloofness and hoighty attitude. Thirty years later, Lorna and her fiance are eager to find a hall to host their wedding. Lorna is drawn to Black Rabbit Hall, an old run down home that has seen better days. She meets with the matriarch of the home and spends some time at the hall planning the wedding and reception. Little does she know that soon, secrets begin to unravel and she finds a link in her past that ties her to the once beautiful home. Recently there have been a surge of novels released that pertain to old buildings that shift from the historical past to the contemporary present. This is one such book. I really was impressed with this book. Each character fascinated me because they each had faults. There was something always a little off or mysterious about them, and I liked that. Next, I loved how the old house and it's history was depicted. A lot of thought and creativity went into creating the backstory. And lastly, I loved the cold matriarch and how all the secrets were slowly released until the final climax. It was all very well done. Just my kind of book. I read it in two sittings. Highly recommended. Thank you to the author and publisher. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
An Enchanting Read. I was a First Read Winner of this book, and I really enjoyed it. This is one of those books that stays with you long after you are done with it. I loved the parallel mystery that was slowly unfolding and I was anxious to find out how it all would end. The characters were interesting and I found myself in tears numerous times, not something I usually like to do. Overall a very lovely read, I will keep my eye out for future books by this very talented Author.
Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase is a very slow book. The story tells of Lorna and Jon looking for a place to get married. They find Black Rabbit Hall (aka Pencraw Hall). Lorna visited the hall with her mother when she was a child (her mother recently passed away). Then the story goes back to the late 1960s with the Alton children. Amber, Toby, Barney, and Kitty spent their school vacations at the hall. Their mother, Nancy called it Black Rabbit Hall because of the rabbits that came out at sunset and you saw their black shadows across the lawn. Their mother died at Easter when she was out looking for her youngest son (off playing and then it started storming) on horseback (got thrown and broke her neck). The father, Hugo quickly rebounds and married Caroline Shawcross (she pursued him). Caroline brings her son, Lucian with her into the marriage. Lucian and Amber are attracted to each other, but it is forbidden (like that will stop them). Caroline is not fond of the children and there will be many changes to the family (Toby does not handle the changes). When Lorna visits Black Rabbit Hall, she encounters Dill (the housekeeper/cook) and Caroline. Caroline has opened the hall for events (needs the money). What happened to Hugo Alton and his children? Why is Lorna drawn to Black Rabbit Hall (she becomes obsessed)? Lorna gets a chance to stay at the hall and find some answers. I found Black Rabbit Hall to be an extremely boring book. It tried to be a mystery, but it did not succeed. I just found Black Rabbit Hall to be odd. We get the story from two different perspectives: Lorna’s and Amber’s (the majority of the book is from Amber’s point-of-view). The Amber section reads more like a young adult novel (she finds love at fifteen). The two stories go back and forth until we see how they are connected. I just found it dull and uninteresting (reading this book was like trekking through the desert). There is some very graphic violence (it is awful) in the book as well as sex and foul language. I did not enjoy Black Rabbit Hall (as you can tell). It sounded like such an intriguing and mysterious book (from the synopsis). I think the book (the idea) had potential, but the writer was not able to pull it off. I give Black Rabbit Hall 1 out of 5 stars. This book was just not for me. If you are looking for a book to help you sleep, then read Black Rabbit Hall. I received a complimentary copy of Black Rabbit Hall from NetGalley and First to Read in exchange for an honest review.