Book Review: The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan

* THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS *

Last year, I was in desperate need of a new book so I decided to pop into Waterstones (a groundbreaking solution, I know). Despite being a book lover I always find this process quite difficult. After about half an hour of getting distracted by stationary I refocussed myself and pulled The Girl in the Photograph by Kate Riordan off the shelf.

Image result for the girl in the photograph kate riordan

Part of the reason I chose to buy The Girl in the Photograph was because the front cover expressed that this novel was ‘rich and atmospheric, like Rebecca this novel casts an enduring spell’. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier is one of my favourite novels and so I began reading with high hopes.

The novel follows the story of Alice Eveleigh, a young woman living in the 1930s, who becomes pregnant by a married man. This is a situation that is particularly scandalous considering the time period in which the novel is set. However, I found that this situation was resolved too easily.  Alice is simply sent away to Fiercombe Manor to live with one of her mother’s childhood friends.

Fiercombe Manor is an old building filled with remnants of the past and this presents Riordan with the perfect opportunity to display her aptitude for description. One of the highlights of this novel was that I had no trouble picturing the scenes that were depicted by Riordan. However, the Gothic allusions that were employed were obvious, boring and devoid of any meaningful significance.

At Fiercombe Manor, Alice discovers remnants of the past that detail the troubling pregnancies of a woman named Elizabeth. Parallels between the two women don’t appear to extend much further than their pregnant states of being but Riordan employs a dual narrative, perhaps in order to connect the two characters further. The chapters alternate between the stories of Alice and Elizabeth. Interestingly, Riordan switches narrative point of view between the chapters with Alice’s being written in first person and Elizabeth’s being written in third. The significance of this is somewhat lost because of its initially jarring nature.

The distinction between the two narratives is also reflected in the style of writing. I found Alice’s sections too reflective in tone and as such enjoyed them less. Elizabeth’s sections felt much more in-the-moment and therefore commanded my attention more effectively. Perhaps this is because the circumstance of Elizabeth’s pregnancy is much more interesting than Alice’s. With Alice the reader is confronted with a common pregnancy storyline: an unwanted pregnancy outside the confines of a stable family unit. However, Elizabeth’s storyline deals with post-natal depression in the Victorian time period.

The ending of the novel was also a tad bit predictable. There was no real twist. It was a bit unbelievable and I felt like Alice never really grew as a person because she was always saved by other people. So, would I recommend this book to others? Probably not. Riordan displays a talent for beautiful writing but the plotline didn’t pack enough punch to make this novel memorable.

If you have been affected by the issues covered in this novel or my accompanying review then please do not hesitate to contact Sands – a stillbirth and neonatal death charity. They can be reached at 020 7436 5881 or helpline@uk-sands.org.

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