“ Author: Katherine Webb / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 24 June 2010 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Orion Publishing Co / Title: The Legacy / ISBN 13: 9781409117162 / ISBN 10: 1409117162 „
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When Erica and Beth Calcott's domineering grandmother dies, it falls to them to sort through her belongings at Storton Manor; their late grandmother's home and the house the girls have not returned to since their cousin Henry disappeared when they were children. As the sisters discover more about their grandmother and her history they have to come to terms with the repercussions of a decision made years before and an act of betrayal centred on the sisters themselves.
A second narrative running parallel to the main story follows the life of the sisters' great grandmother Caroline and the tragic events that brought her from America to the English stately home of Storton Manor.
I was given this book for christmas and it really was the perfect gift. I have read a few books of a similar style as 'The Legacy' in the past but none have balanced the dual narrative as well as Katherine Webb. Unlike others of this type the story of the Calcott sisters in the present is not simply a device to uncover the truth of what happened to Caroline. Indeed, part of the charm of the novel is that Caroline remains something of a mystery to the sisters no matter how much they discover. After all regardless of how much we unearth about history parts of it will always remain shrouded to us. Both storylines are riveting and remain independent of each other throughout. Webb writes beautiful cliffhangers just before switching to a different narrative to keep you on tenterhooks and maintain your interest.
The book is very well written with an aura of the Engish classics about it. The interaction between characters was excellent and the dialogue very believable. I especially liked the contrast between the young Caroline through her own eyes and the much older Caroline shown through the eyes of the child Erica.
The contemporary storyline unfolds at a reasonable pace without giving too much away. A slight drawback was that I figured out what had happened to the dissapearing Henry earlier than I would have liked. This did nothing to limit the enjoyment of the book though and I read on, keen to find out if I was right and how it happened.
The end is nicely tragic, sad enough to be thoughtful but not so terrible that it leaves you crying and wishing for a happy ending. It is, like the rest of the book nicely balanced!
'The Legacy' is one of the latest books in a fairly ubiquitous genre of novels involving a dual narrative; following both a contemporary story and a narrative focusing on the past. As a genre (or sub genre?) this is absolutely my favourite style of novel when it is in done well. I absolutely love the unravelling of the past, the family secrets, the romance, the mystery and, of course, the presence of a big house full of servants and scandal. It is kind of like reading an old fashioned classic (such as 'Jane Eyre') but in easier to read English, and with the presence of a contemporary tale too.
As I said, however, this is my favourite genre when it is done well, and I have read a couple of books of this genre which simply aren't. 'The Legacy' by Katherine Web, however, is absolutely not one of these. In fact, this in one of the best books of this genre that I have read as yet.
Although Webb is dealing with a much done formula of narrative telling, she puts her own unique spin on it and develops an intriguing, mysterious and emotional tale that drew me in from the start and kept me up until two in the morning for an entire week, unable to put it down!
Following the death of their grandmother, sisters Erica and Beth Calcott inherit her home, Storton Manor; a house filled with many happy childhood memories for the girls, but a house that is ultimately shrouded in misery following a final summer visit when their cousin, Henry, disappeared.
On the surprise announcement of their inheritance, the girls find themselves returning to the house for the first time in over twenty years, with the motive of reaching a decision about what to do with the property. Erica, however, is also hiding a secret agenda - she is determined to find out what exactly happened to Henry that summer once and for all.
While rooting through her grandmother's belongings, however, Erica soon finds herself at the centre of another family secret; one that has been buried in history for decades. The discovery of a mysterious old photo of her great grandmother, Caroline, leads Erica unwittingly towards another mystery. What secrets does this photo reveal? And could it provide any explanation as to why the distant, cold Caroline became the way she did?
As Erica begins stumbling upon secrets of betrayal, tragedy and atonement that lead all the way from 1902, Oklahoma, she begins to unravel the secrets of her family's past in a bid to discover - and break - the legacy of misery and bitterness that has been passed down the generations for years and which still surrounds the girls today.
WHAT I LIKED
As mentioned above, I have read many books of this kind, and I have noticed that in most of these novels there is a greater emphasis on either the past or the present narrative. I have read many novels where the "past" story is much more interesting and dominating than the contemporary one and the present characters are primarily there as a device for uncovering the past (such as 'House of Riverton' by Kate Morton) yet I have also read novels where the contemporary story dominates the book and the historic narrative appears to be included merely as a gimmick (as in 'The Memory Garden' by Rachel Hore). I had yet to find a novel of this kind where there is equal focus on each, until now.
In 'The Legacy', unlike in many of these novels, both narratives are equally weighted both in quantity and quality. The use of alternating chapters (one in the past, one in the present) means that both stories are equally developed and detailed, while the intriguing plotlines for both generations mean that neither narrative is there simply as a time filler, gimmick or story telling device.
In this novel both narratives are extremely engaging and intriguing, which is one of my favourite things about the book. Often there is no mystery or intrigue at all in the contemporary narrative, yet in this one I was equally as interested to find out what had happened to Henry as I was to discover Caroline's compelling story.
Each narrative was full of tension and mystery, and every chapter ended on a cliff hanger, meaning that I would be dying to know what had happened in the past story when it switched to the present one, but then by the end of that chapter I would be eager to know what was happening in the present (when it would suddenly switch to the past).
Basically, I could have read both stories as novels on their own and been utterly impressed with each, yet the inclusion of both within one novel meant that this was a thoroughly engaging, clever and compelling read right the way through.
I suppose what makes this book so interesting is that the themes and twists are completely unique. The mystery of the present story - following the strange disappearance of the girls' cousin and the secrets that surround it - is an intriguing and unique concept, while the locations and twists of the past narrative are just as unexpected in this type of novel.
This novel is basically a breath of fresh air within this genre as, for once, the mysteries do not just extend to infidelities, secret pregnancies and romantic relationships, but there are so many more themes touched upon, and there is much more depth, feeling and heartbreak at the heart of this novel than is usual within this genre. The twists are surprising (I didn't guess any of them personally), the plots and locations are engaging, and the whole novel is just utterly unique and compelling.
Another thing that I really liked about this novel is that the past story is told to the reader in depth, in detail and (most refreshingly) in chronological order. Often in these novels the past story is revealed to the reader in small snippets as and when the character/s in the present discover them, which can be intriguing but also immensely frustrating. It also often means that the characters in the past are sketchy as you never really get to know them or their stories in complete detail. In this novel, however, you get to know Caroline's full story in extensive detail, told as a straight forward chronological narrative, so that you really get to know her character and have empathy for her and her story, which makes the novel a lot more satisfying and complete, as well as much more heartbreaking and emotional.
This device also means that the characters in the present don't learn everything - every secret and answer - about the past (as they don't need to to tell the story), which makes the novel a lot more believable and realistic.
Overall the best thing about this novel is that it is so well written. The language is beautiful, the descriptions effective and the characters are believable and, if not exactly likeable, at least easy to empathise with. The author also expertly links the past with the present and ties everything together in a clever and subtle way.
What I like most about the author's writing, however, is that the past story is clearly extremely well researched and thought out, yet the author does not needlessly give every detail of every single thing she has ever found out just to impress the reader with how much research she has done, which authors often do. In fact, the details are so appropriate yet authentic, and the narrative is so convincing, that you almost get the feeling that the author has really lived it herself. In fact, I was astonished to discover that the author was English, as her passages and dialogue set in America are some of the most convincing in the novel.
One final thing that I really liked about this novel is that I think the author paces it really well in terms of revealing information and answering questions. I think it is really effective, in novels such as this, to solve mysteries and answer questions steadily and slowly throughout the book, so that the reader doesn't lose interest part way through (if all the mysteries are left to be resolved at the end) or have nothing to read on for (if all questions are answered early on), and Katherine Webb does that in this book. Some mysteries are unravelled early on, some are hinted at throughout for the reader to work out, and some things are left to the end to be revealed, meaning that the reader's interest is maintained throughout. Or, at least, mine certainly was!
WHAT I DISLIKED
There is little that I truly disliked about this book. I suppose a criticism that some may have is that you are left in suspense for quite a while at the end of each chapter of each story, as the two narratives are written in alternating chapters. While it can be extremely frustrating to reach a cliff hanger and have to wait fifty or so pages to get back to that story to find out what happens next, I actually also think that this makes the book more intriguing and packed with suspense, however, and I quite liked this device.
I also think that some may enjoy the past story more than the present, simply because the characters are (on the whole) perhaps a little easier to empathise with, their story is more emotive and the mystery is perhaps more engaging for some. However, although I found the past story more emotional and moving, I was equally intrigued in the contemporary mystery so this was not the case for me.
One criticism that I will offer, however, is that some of the twists and answers to some of the mysteries and events felt a little bit contrived and were not explained quite convincingly enough. However, this was only in a few cases and it is perhaps just my personal opinion. In any case, it was not enough to ruin the book for me as I found the twists quite unique and unexpected at the same time.
One thing that I did class as a small negative with this book, however, is that is so extremely sad and there is so much misery throughout the novel. In lots of these books the past story has quite a sad ending, but it is generally balanced out by a fairly happy one in the present. In this one, however, I feel that the present ending is debatable. While some may deem it happy, I found it far from satisfying and certainly not happy enough to counteract the huge sadness and misery generated by the rest of the novel. Basically, although I still ultimately loved this book, I did finish the book with a huge feeling of sadness which I felt could have been alleviated just a little if the contemporary story had had a more satisfying ending.
Those who like a good mystery with a heavy dose of family drama.
You're not already feeling depressed and miserable! I also think this is one of those books that is good to read in the Winter, by the fire.
READ IF YOU LIKED...
'The House at Riverton' or 'The Forgotten Garden' by Kate Morton, or 'The Thirteenth Tale' by Diane Setterfield.
IF IT WERE FOOD IT WOULD BE...
A Lindt Chilli Chocolate bar. A dark, bittersweet and unique take on a popular formula.
IF IT WERE A COLOUR IT WOULD BE...
Brown - to match the dirt that surrounds both narratives (and their characters) both figuratively and literally.
"It's always the way. We wait until the people who could answer our questions are dead and gone, and only then do we realise we had questions to ask them."
MARKS OUT OF 10 FOR:
WRITING STYLE - 9
OVERALL BOOK - 9
The Legacy is one of the TV book clubs Summer Reads so I bought it expecting it to be a stonking good read and I did enjoy it but it wasn't as good as I thought it would be. At the time of reading I was reluctant to put it down, and every chapter ended with something that made me want to read on, but I have since read another book from the same list and find that this one is now not as good in comparison.
Actually this book is two stories in one. Each chapter is split into two parts, the first half of each chapter is set in modern day Wiltshire and the second half in early 1900s America. In modern day Wiltshire Erica and her older sister Beth return to Storton Manor one winter because the Manor has been left to them by their Grandmother but only on the condition that they both live there. Neither one of them want to because, although they spent many summers there as children, when Erica was 8 their cousin Henry disappeared. Erica suspects Beth knows more about this than she is letting on and drags her sister back to the Manor to force her to tell the truth and face what happens. It is Erica's determination to discover this family secret that drives this half of the book.
The second half of each chapter tells the story of Caroline, Erica's great-grandmother, who is raised in New York by her Aunt and about to inherit a great fortune when she turns 21. She falls in love with Corin Massey, a farmer from the West, and despite her Aunts objections she marries him. Life in the West is not what Caroline expected and she finds it very hard to adjust. Caroline longs for a baby, but fails to conceive. She becomes more and more withdrawn and unhappy. The mystery in this part of the story is that we know from the prologue that Caroline is in Storton Manor in 1905, with a baby boy whom she takes into the nearby woods and abandons for fear that her husband may find out, and we know there is another child growing inside her. What Katherine Webb does very cleverly is make us want to find out how she got there, who the baby was, and why she abandons him.
The Erica story is told by Erica in the first person and in present tense so there is never any clue about what might happen next. Although Erica often recalls past events during there summers as children in Storton Manor as she unravels the mystery of what happened to cousin Henry, and these are obviously told in past tense. Caroline's story is told the third person. All this helps to separate out the sections and adds to the interest of the piece. It also makes it a very easy read.
My problem with the book was two-fold. First, the character of Caroline is not very likeable. Her daughter, Erica's grandmother Meredith, is awful, but as a secondary character thats OK, you have to have baddies in a story. But Caroline is the central character in the 1900s section and although she has redeeming qualities - she loves Corin, she is prepared, at first, to try to make things work in the West - her attitudes to things and her actions make her not very likeable at all, and this makes you stop caring what happens to her.
Secondly, in the present day story, I had worked out one of the mysteries way before Erica did, and had an incling about the other one too. I don't like it when things are too obvious. Of course not everyone may, I watched the TV book club programme about this book and none of the celebrities said it was easy to work out!!
Despite these two failings I still enjoyed this book. It is well written and every chapter leaves you wanting more, making it quite frustration, in a nice way, that it switches from one story to the other. I enjoyed it.
This story is a tale of family secrets and how they can effect generations of the same family.
It is split between the early 1900's and present day. The main characters are Erica and Beth Calcott and their great grand mother Caroline.
The story of the sisters centre's around Storton Manor, the house they have inherited from their grandmother, and is infused with chapter's about Caroline's life. The sisters know nothing about Caroline's life and have no idea that what she did many years ago would intertwine with their lives now.
Caroline is portrayed by the main character Erica as a bitter and twisted old woman that she only saw a few times during her childhood before she died. But what I loved about this story was because the book contained chapter's about Caroline's early life it made you wonder how a nice woman could turn into this nasty bitter person.And made you look forward to reading what had made her turn that way.
Erica and Beth have been left Storton Manor under the condition that they stay and live in the house and if they decide not to they must relinquish all rights to it. The girls travel down to the house where they spent many summers as children to clear out their grand mother's things. But you realise from the start that Beth is deeply troubled and that the girls have a secret of their own. Their story centres around the manor house and the gypsy camp which is on the grounds. It also tells the tale of Henry their cousin who disappeared one summer at the house and was never found.
Caroline's story centres around Oklahoma and her marriage to Corin, a ranch owner. As the book starts off with the prologue telling us that Caroline is now living at Storton Manor and takes a child to the woods and leaves it there you spend the whole time wondering how she had the child and how she returned home to England.
This is an excellent story and the characters have great depth even the minor characters of the story. The description of Caroline's life in Oklahoma I found brilliant and the similarities of Beth's character and Caroline's I found really interesting.
The only minor criticism I would make is that every chapter left you on a cliff hanger and I was desperate to know what happened next and skip through it. Which made me rush some chapter's.
I have tried not to give to much away because the secrets of the book are what makes it brilliant. I loved Katherine Webb's style of writing and its a great summer read.