The Bronte Plot by Katherine Reay is a story of lies, secrets, family, betrayal and the consequences of these upon those nearest and dearest. It is also about taking responsibility for actions and how the past can impinge upon and influence the present – sometimes with dire results.
Using the works of the Bronte sisters as well as Jane Austen, Beatrix Potter, Charles Dickens and British authors generally, it makes broad and specific analogies, discusses the themes and motives of the characters in these works as well as the importance of stories in people’s lives – how they can inspire, nourish, form and inform us.
The lead character, Lucy Alling, works for an up-market interior designer, Sid, who is also a collector of wonderful curios and antiques with which to adorn the places he’s asked to decorate. Given responsibility for various aspects of the business, in particular, the acquisition of rare books, Lucy hides a dark secret.
When she meets James, a man who seems ideal in so many ways, and her secret is revealed, she loses that which has come to mean so much to her and her life as she knows it threatens to unravel. Forced to confront her behaviour, it’s not until she travels with James’ flawed but understanding grandmother and learns her secrets, that Lucy understands what she has to do and, more importantly, why.
Commencing in the USA, the book moves to England and it’s in London and later the English countryside that Reay draws her locations and that quintessential “Englishness” so well. The reader is not only steeped in this, but like the tea some of the characters loved, we’re immersed in anecdotes and references to Lucy’s beloved books as she ponders what some of her favourite writers and their heroines did in order to enact change.
I enjoyed the book – it’s slow pace, it’s exploration of place and character. While Lucy was well drawn, other characters tended to be a little two-dimensional and not as satisfying. But this is very much Lucy’s story – Lucy and the grandmother – demonstrating the bonds that can form beyond family and across generations.
For lovers of female-centered books, literary allusions, as well as novels which explore the tangled web of relationships and family.