Category Archives: Norfolk Narratives

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This house is haunted by John Boyne

This house is haunted‘This House is Haunted’ tells the tale of Eliza Caine, spirited governess to two slightly unnerving children who seem to be living alone in the gigantic Gaudlin Hall in Norfolk – well, alone apart from the presence that is…

I won’t say too much about the specifics of this book out of fear that giving too much away would seriously impair anyone else’s enjoyment and perhaps occasional shiver.

What I will say is that our protagonist is an excellent character, just the sort of female heroine I like in a period-set novel – that is, she’s strong and brave and doesn’t let the constraints that society imposes upon her gender hold her back. She reminded me quite a bit of Marian Halcombe in Wilkie Collins’ ‘The Woman in White’. The characters were all interestingly drawn, and the children’s dialogue in particular I really enjoyed.

Some really nice descriptions of Norfolk too, in parallel to London where Eliza has come from. And a still oddly fitting description about the London-Norwich train journey made me chuckle (“The train had been delayed in London and then delayed a second time just outside Manningtree”). There’s also a gorgeous scene in which Eliza Caine takes the children to Great Yarmouth for the day – it was a pleasure to imagine from Boyne’s description the beach of yesteryear…

In terms of scares and suspense and a skilfully revealed story, ‘This House is Haunted’ did quite remind me of ‘The Woman in White’ – not to say that it’s derivative, more just up there with another fantastic book, and perhaps part of a greater literary tradition.

I hugely enjoyed this novel (though, after further thought, I’m still not 100% sure it needs the final chapter) – it was a convincing ghost story with its own unique slant in this respect. It was well-written and utterly compelling, I really couldn’t put it down (and so read it very quickly!). Good and scary!

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The Norfolk mystery by Ian Sansom

NorfolkThe setting is 1937 and the celebrated author, Swanton Morley, is about to embark on an epic task of writing a guide to each English county. Norfolk is the scene for the first book and Swanton and his assistant, Stephen Sefton, set off from Holt to Blakeney. There they ponder the mystery of the two church towers but a sinister find in one of the towers draws them into a fiendish plot.


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The Seventeenth Child by Ethel George

The seventeenth childI discovered this book after a visit to the Norfolk Record Office; I often visit the NRO on my lunch break when the NRO holds short talks on their collections (follow @norfolkRO or see to see what’s on!).

On this particular day, the recorded interviews of Ethel George were being played and discussed by Jonathan Draper, the archivist. After listening to Ethel’s vivid and colourful descriptions of days gone by in Norwich, I borrowed her book from the library. Having heard her voice – with true Norfolk accent, and a brilliant laugh – I could just imagine her sitting with me, chatting over a cup of tea!

Unlike some, Ethel made it clear that the past was not always rosy. Her memories include hardship and poverty, the dirt and smell of the city when dozens of families lived in ‘yards’ and without basic amenities. Ethel recalls the fathers who worked all sorts of jobs to provide for their families (and those who didn’t); Mothers worked hard to keep their families clean and fed, and hers was no exception – especially with 17 children to look after!

Mental illness, domestic violence, scandal and unemployment are all touched upon. Ethel speaks of her parents’ background before moving on to her childhood and the close bond between her siblings, with the adventures and escapades they got up to and their experiences at school. As a young woman, Ethel went to work in a number of well-known Norwich trades, found love and married; her stories from this time are just as funny and interesting!

Ethel’s memory was astounding and I really enjoyed the small details such as the clothes she wore, the food and drink she enjoyed (or wished for!), and Norwich events she attended. I get the impression she was full of life with a mischievous streak! A great read, even if you aren’t originally from Norwich, like me!


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The Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore

I have recently read this book and thoroughly enjoyed it, not least because it is set in Norfolk and there are references to Holt and Wells, both places that I love. It was easy to visualise the Norfolk woods that a lot of the story takes place in. Even a brief visit to Holt library is mentioned.

The book starts with Jude having a recurrent nightmare that she suffered with as a child.

Jude is a recently widowed London based auctioneer. She is pleased to get  the chance to value the collection of an 18th century astronomer, Anthony Wickham, in Norfolk where she grew up. It transpires that her Grandmother has a link to Starbrough Hall, the home of this collection and whilst getting to know the family and it’s history whilst revisiting her own, unanswered questions begin to have some meaning. Why does her young niece Summer have the same nightmare?

Wickham’s is a tragic story with links to the present. The folly in the grounds of the hall seems to hold some secrets. Jude, with the help of a local naturalist, Euan uncovers the answers and yes you have guessed, he is the love interest.

A really lovely story, recommended to me by a colleague. It has been read by many customers in Acle library, all have enjoyed it and gone on to order the other titles that she has written.

Kymm Lucas

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Salt by Jeremy Page

SaltAtmospheric and verging on magical realism, this novel evokes the ethereal and claustrophobic nature of a family isolated from society by culture and geography. Following the timeline, and written in the first person of, a boy growing up in Blakeney and the Lincolnshire fens. We follow the events leading to his birth, the circumstances surrounding his heritage and the painful way England in the post war decades dealt with issues which might seem trivial today.

The spectre of mental illness hangs heavily over the whole piece, affecting several generations of the same, seemingly doomed, family. I was hypnotized by the almost druggy, hallucinatory sense of bleakness and stifled desperation viewed through the prism of a damaged silent child’s memories. Really emotional in places, this book has a way of creepily needling you inside, and as such wouldn’t be appropriate for a holiday read in the Maldives, more for a dark winter’s night by the fire fuelled up with a large port.

I was also fascinated to learn that he went to school with my sister in law and that he grew up in the village where my mother-in-law still lives. Blakeney is only a short drive away. And his love for, and familiarity with the location is obvious. Sit in a pub in Cley reading this book looking out over the marshes and you will feel you are there.

Bitesized version: Bleak, magical, transporting and tragic. A Norfolk Gabriel Garcia Marquez, with a touch of the Wallander landscape. Think – an epic song by the Doors or Pink Floyd about a family struggling to communicate and survive in an unforgiving environment, with plenty of realistic Norfolk dialect.

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Weirdo by Cathi Unsworth

Twenty years before, in the East Coast seaside town of Ernemouth, a gruesome murder was blamed on Corrine, an awkward teenage misfit. Now advances in DNA testing have indicated that she was not the only person involved and a private investigator arrives in town with a brief to discover the truth.

This truth has been covered up since the murder by a cartel of men who believe they run the town, and is further blurred by a cast of characters who are not exactly what they seem…indeed the town of Ernemouth itself is a thinly disguised portrait of Great Yarmouth and at least part of the fun for local readers is to spot which Yarmouth features have been taken straight from life.

Cathi Unsworth was for many years a rock music journalist, and more fun can be had with the telling descriptions of music and fashions from the 1980s. Weirdo is a gripping whodunnit in its own right, but if you know Yarmouth and remember the 1980s this is a book with layer upon layer of interest.


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