February 11, 2019

Book Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick


Publication Date: February 26, 2019

Source: Vine

London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

First, the description for this book touts it for fans of Kate Morton.  I respectfully disagree.  While it has some elements similar to Morton's novels - alternating timelines, a mystery in the past, and complex characters, The Woman in the Lake can't compare to Morton's novels.  The comparison to Susannah Kearsley is a bit more on the nose, as there are supernatural elements woven into the narrative which are never explained to my satisfaction. 

"Her fingers brushed against something soft and smooth, silk, aged and pale yet still retaining the shimmer of gold.

"A sensation shot through her, recognition and dread and a strange sort of excitement.

"The golden gown came free of its wrappings with a whisper of sound that was like the past stirring.  It felt as though it sighed, shivering in Fen's hands. Unconsciously, she held it close to her heart in exactly the same way she had done in her bedroom fourteen years before.

...

"This is yours. Do with it what you think best but be aware of the danger.'"

The novel is written from three different points of view: Fenella in the modern day, Lady Isabella and her lady's maid, Cordelia, in the 1700s.  In both storylines, the female characters are in jeopardy from a lover or ex-lover and must go from a place of helplessness to one of strength.  Ultimately, this is what I liked about The Woman in the Lake - its theme of female empowerment. The last chapters moved fast towards a triumphant conclusion for both storylines. But my interest was piqued by the Author's Note which revealed that Lady Isabella was based on a real-life aristocrat, Lady Diana Spencer (not that one, but an ancestor of hers).  I would wait to research the author's inspiration as doing so might spoil some narrative turns. 

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