I come from a family of readers. My parents have to-be-read piles that rival my own. Rare is the visit to mom and dad’s house that doesn’t end by loaning books to each other. This past weekend, mom loaned me The Witch of Willow Hall, with the disclaimer that it contained more romance than witchery.
In early 1800’s Boston, the Montrose family becomes entangled in a social scandal causing them to move to their country estate, Willow Hall. Lydia, the middle of three sisters, does her best to make Willow Hall feel like home despite local whisperings of ghosts haunting the estate. She keeps an eye out for her youngest sister, Emeline, who has been acting strangely since the move. Lydia also feels obligated to keep a watchful eye on her eldest sister, Catherine, who is determined to find marriageable suitors, and willing to deploy reckless means to attract them. Meanwhile, Lydia is drawn to her father’s handsome new business partner, Mr. Barrett; though she fears he could never return her affections, particularly if he knew her family’s past.
Though I could tell this book did not meet mom’s expectations, I also knew she wouldn’t pass me a complete dud. I brought it home, thinking I might toss it on top of my to-be-read pile, where it would likely sit for a few months. Then it snowed. School was cancelled. The kids were home. I needed a book that would demand minuscule focus. Kids are loud, and snow days are not conducive to focused reading time.
Actually, I could probably dedicate an entire category of this blog to books that are perfect reads by simple virtue of requiring only tiny fragments of my attention. I greatly appreciate novels that entertain modestly, without delusions of literary grandeur. This book certainly falls into that category.
Of course, my mom was correct – the book contains far more Regency Romance than the supernatural. Though the main character is a witch, it’s so secondary to the rest of the plot that the title is almost misleading. This book is more of a contemporary curtsy to 19th century Gothic novels. It’s a love story, with a little bit of ghost story thrown in for good measure.
However, if the intent was to foster a Gothic, dark, haunting atmosphere, the novel fell short of its mark. Personally, I found nothing unsettling or foreboding about this tale. The atmospheric tone of a true Gothic novel was noticeably missing from this book. Not enough ghastliness or ghostliness for my taste.
Then again, if the intent was to write a Regency Romance, this book does its job quite well. The characters are easily recognizable in their roles. Mr. Barrett, for example, exhibits all the fine qualities and attributes sought after in a Regency paramour. He and Lydia’s commitment to propriety, and sense of duty, throws up almost insurmountable barriers to their happy ending.
In the end, I was more absorbed by this book than I anticipated. I think it helped that mom warned be about the lack of witchery. If you are in the mood for some early 19th century romance, and want a quick and easy read, this is a great choice. It is also a great choice for readers looking for a light ghost story; who don’t want to be truly scared or spooked. This one won’t keep you up at night.