The Legacy by Katherine Webb
Fiction, Published August 30, 2011
Challenges: Historical Fiction
ARC received from netGalley.com
Read: August 2011, 496 pp.
Following the death of their grandmother, Erica Calcott and her sister Beth return to Storton Manor, a grand and imposing house in Wiltshire, England, where they spent their summer holidays as children. When Erica begins to sort through her grandmother’s belongings, she is flooded with memories of her childhood—and of her cousin, Henry, whose disappearance from the manor tore the family apart.
Erica sets out to discover what happened to Henry—so that the past can be laid to rest, and her sister, Beth, might finally find some peace. Gradually, as Erica begins to sift through remnants of the past, a secret family history emerges: one that stretches all the way back to Oklahoma in the 1900s, to a beautiful society heiress and a haunting, savage land. As past and present converge, Erica and Beth must come to terms with two terrible acts of betrayal—and the heartbreaking legacy left behind.
First Impressions (Out of all the books I have to read, why this one?):
The cover is just stunning. Lately, I have been attracted to books about family secrets or old family homes with secrets so thought I would try this one out.
The Legacy follows two sisters Erica and Beth back to their grandmother’s estate to sort out her belongings after her death. They had spent a lot of their childhood there, but stopped going soon after a tragic event that happened in 1986, when Beth was about 12 and Erica was 8. The narration switches back and forth between the sister Erica’s point of view at the present time, which I think is about 2005, to 1986 when a tragedy occurred at the manor house, and to the story of the sisters’ great grandmother Caroline in the early 1900s in New York City and the isolations of a ranch in Oklahoma.
There are multiple threads weaving – if somewhat convoluted – throughout the book to follow. First there is the present time. Erica and her sister Beth at the estate trying to sort through their grandmother’s things and needing to decide what to do with the home. In the will, they must either both live there or it will be sold and the money will go to charity. Then there is Beth’s depression – it is so bad that her husband divorced her and rarely lets her see her son Eddie. Erica thinks the root of her depression stems back to the disappearance of their cousin Henry during their childhood. Next, enters their gypsy neighbors, namely Dinny, who they played with nonstop as children but haven’t seen in 23 years. Erica tries to remember what happened that day in 1986. What happened to Henry? Did someone take him or was he killed? But if he was killed, where was his body? Erica knows her sister and childhood friend Dinny know what happened to their cousin Henry, but being so young at the time of the incident, she does not remember what happened to him, and they refuse over and over again to tell her what they know.
I found the story of Caroline to be rather confusing at first because it is not until at least half way through the story that it is explained why the reader even cares about her and what it has to do with the mysteries of the present. I really found her entire story to be rather depressing and while I was sad for her, I never really sympathized with her. She had lost so much that when she actually found what she had been looking for, her jealousies took over and set her future family up for a lot of miseries. Truly a lost soul – only lived for Corin, her first husband. She was lost to the Calcotts and lost to me as a reader.
Overall, I did enjoy the beautiful use of language and I was very interested in discovering how things were going to unwind, but it just seemed to take so long to get there. Some of the results were more obvious than others. Unfortunately, the reader learns more than Erica and so some of the real truths are lost forever to the family. I often felt like Pooh Bear, circling and circling around the same tree not getting anywhere, with how long it took for Erica to figure things out.
My favorite character of the lot was Eddie! I think he really lightened the dark mood when he came to the house.
A dew pond, at the far side of the grounds where the estate met the rolling downs, from which sprang the stream that flowed through the village. It was deep and still and shaded; the water dark on a cloudy day like today, matte with the falling rain, ready to hide any secret cast into it.
So now the house is ours – but only for a little while, because I don’t think we can bear to live hear. There’s a reason why not. If I try to look right at it, it slips away like vapor. Only a name surfaces: Henry. The boy who disappeared, who just wasn’t there any more. What I think now, staring up into the dizzying branches; what I think is that I know. I know why we can’t live here, why it’s even remarkable that we’ve come at all. I know. I know why Beth won’t even get out of the car now.
Our roles are defined by habit, by memory and custom. Here, in this house, we are children.
“I think you’re a bit obsessed with this pond, Rick,” Eddie tells me gravely. I smile. “I’m not. What makes you say that, anyway?” “Every time we come near it you go all Luna Lovegood. Staring into space like that.”
At that hour the sky in the east was violet and azure, pricked by faint, glimmering stars that winked out of existence as the day broadened.
Many a murderer was born to a decent, God-fearing woman.
I have never before found graveyards eerie, or particularly depressing. I like the expressions of love on the stones, the quiet declarations of people having existed, of having mattered. Who knows what secret feelings lie behind the carved lists of offspring, siblings and surviving spouses – or if the memories they had were truly loving. But there is the hope, always, that each transient life meant something to those left behind; cast a vapor trail of influence and emotion to fade gradually across the years.
It would be easier, I think, to squeeze truths from the stones of these walls than to squeeze them from my sister.
“It’s always the way. We wait until the people who could answer our questions are dead and gone, and only then do we realize we had questions to ask them,” she says, somewhat sadly.
Thanks to netGalley and HarperCollins for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.