Set against the backdrop of three wars – the 1991 Gulf War, World War 2 and World War 1 – the novel follows the fortunes of three women who become involved with the Flint family, the owners of Echo Hall.
Phoebe Flint visits Echo Hall in 2014, where she follows in her mother’s footsteps to uncover the stories of a house ‘full of unhappy women, and bitter, angry men’.
Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall in 1990 – newlywed, pregnant, and uncertain of her relationship with her husband, Adam. Ghostly encounters, a locked door, and a set of photographs pique her curiosity. But Adam and his grandfather refuse to let her investigate. And her marriage is further strained, when Adam, a reservist, is called up to fight in the Gulf War.
In 1942, Elsie Flint is already living at Echo Hall with her children, the guest of her unsympathetic in-laws, whilst her husband Jack is away with the RAF. Her only friend is Jack’s cousin Daniel, but Daniel is hiding secrets, which when revealed could destroy their friendship for good.
Rachel and Leah Walters meet Jacob Flint at a dinner party in 1911. Whilst Leah is drawn to Jacob, Rachel rejects him leading to conflict with her sister that will reverberate through the generations.
As Ruth discovers the secrets of Echo Hall, she is able to finally bring peace to the Flint family, and in doing so, discover what she really needs and wants. Does history always have to repeat itself, or can she find another way?
Following four generations of the same family, Echo Hall is an eerie and atmospheric novel of love, secrets, betrayal and regret.
When Ruth Flint arrives at Echo Hall, she is struck by the atmosphere of gloom and malice that hangs over certain parts of the building. Newly married and pregnant, Ruth already doubts whether she’s made the right decisions, and the oppressive atmosphere of the house, combined with the reluctance of both Adam and his grandfather Jack to talk about its history, do little to allay her fears. When Ruth stumbles upon a stash of photographs and documents in a locked upstairs room, she unknowingly begins to unravel the tangled web of secrets surrounding the Flint family – but in doing so, she must be careful not to become ensnared in Echo Hall’s web herself.
Spanning four generations, this is a novel of sprawling proportions but, at its heart, Echo Hall is a novel about family, and about the ties that bind us together whether we wish it or not. It’s also about the legacy that can be passed from one generation to the next – legacies of guilt, loss, and betrayal that can influence future generations in ways that the originators of those feelings could never comprehend. This makes Echo Hall a very evocative novel and I really felt for the various women whose stories make up the legacy of the Flint family.
Ruth and Elsie were probably my favourite characters. I admired Ruth for her spirit, and for her determination to try and move beyond the legacies of Echo Hall’s past. Elsie is a woman before her time – spirited and good-natured, I found her story to be unbearably tragic.
Other characters were less sympathetic – I found it hard to like Leah and Veronica, although this may be owing to the fact that, as the story is told backwards, I already knew what kind of people they would become from reading Ruth and Elsie’s narrative first – and because I liked Elsie so much, I was already predispossed to dislike them both! That said, though I couldn’t bring myself to like Leah, I found it really interesting to read her section and discover what it was that made her into the bitter woman she became in Elsie’s narrative.
This backwards narrative means Echo Hall really takes the reader onto a journey with its characters, who really are the driving force behind the plot. Although not a slow book to read by any means – I finished it in a couple of days – Echo Hall is about the people that make up the place, and the things that drive them to make the choices that they do – for good or ill – rather than dramatic uncoverings of long-buried skeletons in the Flint family closet. Personally I found this to be fascinating, although some readers may be disappointed that the supernatural elements hinted at in the blurb, and in some early chapters, don’t materialise into a significant part of the story.
That said, whilst Echo Hall may not be filled with things that go bump in the night, the characters in the novel are all haunted in one way or another. Whether by bitterness, regret, or guilt, Echo Hall is a place unable to move beyond the love and heartbreak of its past.
If I had one criticism of Echo Hall it is that sometimes I wanted to spend more time with the characters than the novel allowed. With four generations of the Flint family to cover, there is a lot happening in the novel and it occassionally felt as if certain aspects of each story were left unexplored, or that promising strands (such as the ghostly apparitions seen by Ruth) were left dangling rather than being fully resolved. I could also have done without the framing narrative given by Phoebe – Ruth’s daughter – as I didn’t feel it added to the narrative in any way.
These are, however, very minor niggles in an otherwise very enjoyable and richly realised family saga. For a debut, Echo Hall has an impressive level of depth and complexity, and tells an atmospheric story of the lives that make up one family across the course of the twentieth century. Fans of Kate Morton and Rachel Hore should certainly check Echo Hall out, as should anyone looking for an engaging tale about the legacies of the past.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher for providing an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review, and to Emma from DampPebbles Blog Tours for organising and inviting me onto this tour. The tour continues until 21 August 2020 so do check out the other stops for more reviews and content!