Review: The Marsh House by Zoe Somerville

Zoe Somerville’s historical debut The Night of the Flood was an atmospheric exploration of a secret Cold War base in Norfolk and a tangled love story. Her follow up, The Marsh House, is also set in an atmospheric historical Norfolk and has spooky ghostly elements.

It is 1962. Malorie has fled London and her marriage one December night to find refuge in The Marsh House, where she is convinced that she will uncover a family secret hinted at by her mother before she died. Malorie, as well as having recently lost her mother has a history of what the reader can see is post-natal depression, but of course was much less understood in those days. She has brought her daughter Franny and her dog with her to the Marsh House but the house is gloomy and secretive, and they both begin to be affected by the atmosphere. There is some help available form the local shop and Malorie gets glimpses of a mysterious neighbour from a tumbledown nearby cottage but they are incredibly isolated. Things get worse as when they get snowed in and are unable to leave. Delving about in the attic, Malorie finds a series of notebooks containing a diary from the 1930s that may contain the answers to her questions. The story switches between Malorie and the notebook story, written by teenager Rosemary, so the reader becomes as immersed in the past as Malorie starts to be.

The book is very good at keeping up the spooky atmosphere – I did have to stop reading it late at night, just in case it was too much for my overactive imagination. She does also examine how attitudes towards women have been a really poisonous way of controlling spirited girls and women. Like her first book, this references historical moments that we are aware of, without them being a main focus of the book – in this case, some references to Oswald Mosely and the English fascist movement.

I really enjoyed the supernatural feel to the book and the strong sense of place she evokes. This is a well written mix of historical and gothic horror with a focus on women’s voices.

The Marsh House will be published on 3 March 2022. You can find full details on Zoe’s website. Many thanks to Netgalley for the review copy.

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