Review: The Shell House – Linda Newbery

Synopsis from Goodreads.
Greg’s casual interest in the history of a ruined mansion becomes more personal as he slowly discovers the tragic events that overwhelmed its last inhabitants. Set against a background of the modern day and the First World War, Greg’s contemporary beliefs become intertwined with those of Edmund, a foot soldier whose confusion about his sexuality and identity mirrors Greg’s own feelings of insecurity.






So, I am conflicted.

I’m going to start with the things I loved about this book which is basically the opposite of what I normally do when I write a review. But let’s mix it up today, shall we?

Ms Newbery can write a story. She can write a setting. She can write characters. The woman can write. One of my favourite parts of this book was the descriptions of Graveney Hall, the stately home that links the two strands of story. I hope that I’ll always be caught up with the romance of huge, sprawling, ramshackled houses steeped in history.

“On its ridge in hazy sunlight Graveney Hall was the ghost of itself, like the setting for a gothic film. Except that in the film it would be deserted, approached on horseback through swirling mists….”

The setting for this book was almost a character in itself. Ms Newbery uses the hall and its gardens to flawlessly link the two stories together without making the book gimmicky or twee.
And I loved how this book was challenging. It managed to provoke discussion while remaining neutral. The discussions between Greg and Faith about the existence of God and faith were perfectly written to me because they didn’t take sides. Ms Newbery didn’t make the girl who believes in God seem unhinged and she didn’t make Greg the damned boy. I seem to say this all the time but it’s always good when you’re reading a book about subjects like this where the author isn’t like “THIS IS HOW I FEEL AND I’M GOING TO THWACK YOU OVER THE HEAD WITH MY THOUGHTS UNTIL YOU AGREE WITH ME.”
Actually, it’s good when you’re doing anything and that doesn’t happen.
And I absolutely adored the characters, especially Greg. But that’s all I’m going to say about that because there is a rather large chance that I will spoil it for you if I carry on. But he was wonderful and infuriating and unsure and brilliantly crafted. I loved that he was a photographer and that we started off each chapter with a description of his photographs, both taken with his camera and mentally.

“Some of his mental snapshots would be translated into real ones for his art project, if he got the chance. Close-ups, he thought: the ripple of the water, the spear-thrust of rush, black-and-white to bring out pattern and light. And the grotto- yes, colour for that, the swirl of blues and whites… He might tell Jordan.”

I did have a problem I had with it and, unfortunately, was kind of a big problem. You see, I am I’m what people* call a greedy reader. I like to get tangled up in a story like an excitable kitten in a wool shop.
I’m sorry, I have no idea what the analogy is supposed to mean. I’m very tired. It’s been a long week.
If I find a group of characters that I love and learn everything there is to know about them so when they do something I can be like “NOOOOOO” or “YES! FINALLY!”
I liked to get involved.

Basically, I loved spending time with Greg and Jordan. And I adored getting to know Edmund and Alex. But because this book was both their stories, I can’t help but feel that just as I was getting involved… I was torn away to something else. It was like having two gorgeous, beautiful lakes that are practically begging for you to dive into… but then being told there’s no swimming. And you can have that ridiculous analogy for free.
Edmund and Alex’s story was so beautiful and heart breaking and the kind of love story that should be told in dusty sepia photographs. Their tale was so gentle and subtle and private in the way that all true love affairs should be. I often wonder whether I become more involved in character’s life when their story is set against a backdrop such as this (First World War, by the way) because there is always that underlying sense of dread. Does the fragility make it all the more affective?

I’m not sure, but whatever the reason, I was hooked.
With Greg and Jordan’s story, it was raw and brutal and full of “stars and darkness and space and sand and waves and water and light”. It was like all the lovely romance had been stripped right back and all was left was the nerve endings. I think, if push came to shove, I’d say that Greg and Jordan’s story was my favourite of the two. It was difficult and awkward and messy and extremely uncertain, even at the end.
In the half of the book she spent with each couple, I could feel that she had the ability to pretty much leave me in tatters… but she didn’t. This book should have been two books. And if it had, I can say that they’d probably both be my favourite books.

My name is Jo and I am a greedy reader. I refuse to apologise.

But seriously, this book was both absolutely astounding and incredibly disappointing. I’ll let you work out how that works.

*OK, what I call.

9 thoughts on “Review: The Shell House – Linda Newbery

  1. Can I just say how much I love imagining you as a kitten in a wool shop? (OMGURALIVE!)

    I also love this review. I seriously need to revisit Linda Newbery, I was obsessed with her books in high school.

    • Thanks Rey! I really hope you read this one, maybe you’ll be OK with the dual perspective? I’ve already added her others to my to read list because I know how much you loved them! :)

      Haha, I was certainly coming up with bizarre analogies with this one. *tears at a ball of wool*

  2. This is a great review. Even though you didn’t love it the way you felt you should, you described this book in such a way that I am intrigued. But I do know how you feel where a book should be so much better than it is, but it somehow lets you down.

    • Thanks :) Yeah, I really wanted to love it a lot more. I think the whole dual perspective/intertwining stories is really difficult to pull off and I’m not quite sure Ms Newbery managed it.

      But again, that’s probably just me.

  3. This cover is super off-putting to me. I know it is awful to say, but I always think of Arrested Development when I see a small crucifix/cross:

    Maeby: Do you guys know where I can get one of those gold necklaces with a “T” on it?
    Michael: That’s a cross.
    Maeby: Across from where?


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