REVIEW by Stevie Davies

NWR Issue 105


by Jacqueline Yallop

Imagine that, somewhere in England, there existed in the hot summer of 1976 an archaic country house and estate, set up by a bygone philanthropist according to a neo-feudal design. Marlford is owned and administered by the philanthropist’s son, Ernest Barton. Decrepitude prevails. The crumbling buildings are undergoing subsidence from abandoned salt mines; the codes that founded Marlford are moribund.

‘Every morning during the bleached summer of 1976, when the drought hard-baked the earth, deep down, so that it held still, Ellie Barton went to the mere.’ The summer of 1976 has become a legend, mythologised in, for instance, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, William Boyd’s Restless and Deborah Moggach’s Close to Home. Yallop’s prose in the prelude has a lyricism that adeptly captures drought and stillness, life’s withdrawal to its base. The mere is a figure for memory. Whatever crime haunts the mere threatens to manifest: ‘debris, the accumulated litter of unremembered moments.’

This crime has been committed to secure a future for Marlford’s deviant and tottering world: the survival of the estate is predicated on patrilinear inheritance and female infanticide. The single daughter surviving to adulthood is motherless Ellie, centre of Jacqueline Yallop’s Gothic fable...

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