About the Book
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.
Ostracised by the servants and feeling increasingly uneasy, Ruby is forced to confront her own demons in order to prevent history from repeating itself. After all, there’s no such thing as the perfect family – and she should know.
Format: eARC (400 pages) Publisher: Bonnier
Publication date: 10th June 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find Mrs England on Goodreads
Disclosure: If you buy a book via the above link, I may earn a commission from Bookshop.org, whose fees support independent bookshops
I very much enjoyed Stacey Hall’s first book, The Familiars, and her second book, The Foundling, is in my TBR pile so I couldn’t resist requesting a copy of Mrs England when I saw it on NetGalley.
Like Ruby, the reader is immediately struck by Hardcastle House’s remote location, surrounded by thick forest. Certainly one of the book’s many strong points is the evocation of the brooding nature of the landscape. For example, the nearby cotton mill owned by the England family is described as ‘crouching like a secret at the bottom of the valley’. Or the moorland surrounding a small village described as ‘lapping against…cottages like a great flood of bleakness’.
Ruby is also struck by the surprising informality of the household. In particular, by Charles England who seems to take more of an interest in his four children than does their mother, Lilian. Indeed Lilian spends most of her days within the confines of her bedroom either, Ruby supposes, through physical or mental frailty. If anything, Lilian seems worn down by the influence of her powerful family, the Greatrexes, only really coming to life when away from Hardcastle House.
From early on in the book there are some spine-tingling moments, often evoked by a single sentence such as Mr England’s intruction to Ruby to lock the nursery door at night. There are also questions about the motivations and truthfulness of all the characters, including Ruby herself. Why is she so disturbed at being photographed? Why does she avoid opening the bundle of letters hidden away in her trunk? Only in her correspondence with her sister Elsie does Ruby seem to feel free to disclose a little of her life at Hardcastle House.
Gradually the truth about the many secrets lurking within the England household emerges, revealing a chilling picture of deception, manipulation and control. If you love the gothic elements of novels such as Rebecca or Jane Eyre, you are sure to enjoy Mrs England.
In her author’s note, Stacey Halls reveals the real life event that inspired a key moment in the book. I’ll say no more about it other than to advise readers to refrain from reading the author’s note until they’ve finished the story.
In three words: Atmospheric, suspenseful, assured
Try something similar: The Deception of Harriet Fleet by Helen Scarlett
About the Author
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. (Photo credit: Author website)