I really enjoyed Fran Cooper’s debut novel These Dividing Walls and I was thrilled to receive an early copy of her second novel, The Two Houses, to review.
The Two Houses sit grey and brooding beneath a pale sky. They cling to the hillside, cowering from the wind, because always, before everything up here, there is the wind.
The Two Houses were not always two. But if it is human to build – even up here, in this blasted northern hinterland – it is human to break, too.
After an acclaimed career in ceramics, Jay herself has cracked. Recovering from a breakdown, she and her husband Simon move to the desolate edges of the north of England, where they find and fall in love with the Two Houses: a crumbling property whose central rooms were supposedly so haunted that a previous owner had them cut out from the building entirely.
But on uprooting their city life and moving to the sheltered grey village of Hestle, Jay and Simon discover it’s not only the Two Houses that seems to be haunted by an obscure past. It becomes increasingly clear that the villagers don’t want them there at all – and when building work to make the two houses whole again starts, a discovery is made that will unearth decades-old secrets…
But who in this village has been hiding them?
From the opening chapter, Cooper sets a foreboding tone with the discovery of what is undeniably a bone at the site of the Two Houses. The novel then slips back in time a little, to Jay and Simon’s first visit to the houses, and Jay is immediately besotted with them. I loved the way that the initial discovery in the first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the novel, which is incredibly atmospheric throughout with the mention of ghosts, objects moving inexplicably, and the sound of footsteps when there is no one there. I think that there are some places where the idea of ghosts and hauntings become more plausible, and Cooper captures that brilliantly in this novel, set up in the isolated hills and dales around the fictional Hestle.
As with Cooper’s debut, the characters in this novel are fully developed, even those who have a relatively minor role to play. Whilst there were some that I liked more than others, they are all extremely credible, and I loved Jay who is portrayed as a fragile individual recovering from a breakdown. Simon I liked less, and I found him to be quite unsympathetic, although he is trying to mend whatever it is that has broken between him and his wife, albeit without much success. Jay doesn’t help matters by pursuing the secrets of the houses and this new community they’ve moved into with something bordering upon obsession, but I understood her need to uncover the secrets of the Two Houses.
And this is a novel with plenty of secrets to uncover, and whilst it’s not fast-paced, I was hooked and as determined as Jay to discover the story behind Two Houses and those in the community who seem to have an unspoken rule not to tell these “offcomers” anything.
A wonderfully creepy novel that has quite a different tone to These Dividing Walls and marks Cooper as an author who can turn her pen to different kinds of novel successfully. I can’t wait to see what she does next.
The Two Houses will be published on 22 March by Hodder & Stoughton. Many thanks to the publisher for the opportunity to read and review an early copy of this novel.
Rating ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐