From the bestselling author of The Familiars and The Foundling comes Stacey Halls’s most compelling novel to date: a gripping feminist mystery where a nanny must travel to Yorkshire to a grand house filled with secrets. For there’s no such thing as the perfect family…
‘Something’s not right here.’
I was aware of Mr Booth’s eyes on me, and he seemed to hold his breath. ‘What do you mean?’
‘In the house. With the family.’
West Yorkshire, 1904. When newly graduated nurse Ruby May takes a position looking after the children of Charles and Lilian England, a wealthy couple from a powerful dynasty of mill owners, she hopes it will be the fresh start she needs. But as she adapts to life at the isolated Hardcastle House, it becomes clear there’s something not quite right about the beautiful, mysterious Mrs England.
Distant and withdrawn, Lilian shows little interest in her children or charming husband, and is far from the ‘angel of the house’ Ruby was expecting. As the warm, vivacious Charles welcomes Ruby into the family, a series of strange events forces her to question everything she thought she knew. Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby must face her demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.
Simmering with slow-burning menace, Mrs England is a portrait of an Edwardian marriage, weaving an enthralling story of men and women, power and control, courage, truth and the very darkest deception. Set against the atmospheric West Yorkshire landscape, Stacey Halls’ third novel proves her one of the most exciting and compelling new storytellers of our times.
This is Stacey Halls third novel and each of them has made me fall in love with her beautifully written storylines a little more with every book she delivers. Mrs England is just so perfectly crafted with understated but intriguing characters that you can’t help but connect with.
When Ruby May turns down the chance to move abroad with the family she works for, she takes the next suitable position offered to her. This takes her to Yorkshire and to the England family. It became quite obvious to me early on that there was something strange afoot at Hardcastle House! Lilian England-the mistress of the house and mother of four young children-seems not to know much about the upkeep of the home and so Ruby reports mainly to Charles England. She struggles to make friendships as the staff aren’t particularly welcoming but she quickly becomes devoted to her charges. I was desperate to discover the secrets brewing inside this family home and they certainly weren’t ones that I was expecting. As the storyline develops, I became very uneasy as Ruby herself also seemed to be keeping her past quite close to her chest so I had no idea where the story was heading. Once everything comes together there are some heartbreaking revelations and shocking secrets are exposed.
I love the stylish way Stacey Halls crafted her characters as she slowly peeled back their layers for us to glimpse the real personality beneath. She brought the simmering tension to the boil as Ruby discovers the truths about her employers as well as those about Ruby herself. The relationships between the male and female characters were perfectly pitched for the time period but I did love how the women and girls became a stronger force as the plot developed.
The Edwardian setting was a great background for this atmospheric and darkly powerful novel. The descriptive writing took in the Yorkshire countryside and its inhabitants and made them stand out against their surroundings. Historically it felt very familiar and so I very quickly became engrossed in the timeline and the people living through it. I especially enjoyed the look at the history of the Norland nannies (or nurses as they are described here) and how the Norland institute changed the way the rich or aristocratic society looked at their childcare.
I adored Mrs England and it’s probably my favourite of this authors books so far. It was definitely a 5 star read for me and the ending especially worked just so perfectly for me as a reader. It’s a gorgeously atmospheric book with more than a touch of Jane Eyre and Rebecca about it. Well worth a read if you love historical fiction.
Stacey Halls was born in Lancashire and worked as a journalist before her debut The Familiars was published in 2019. The Familiars was the bestselling debut hardback novel of that year, won a Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the British Book Awards’ Debut Book of the Year. The Foundling, her second novel, was also a Sunday Times top ten bestseller. Mrs England is her third novel