This Gothic coming-of-age story (376 pages) was published in June of 2001 by Picador. The book takes you to a Victorian hotel on Maine's coast. Melissa read Grange House and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
If you like your white-washed New England Victorian mansions to come with a whole lotta backstory, and you’re attracted to a Wilkie Collins/Henry James vibe, this coming-of-age story is for you. It’s a love letter to Victorian Gothic, transplanted to the all-American coast of Maine.
Meet Maisie, the 17-year-old heroine of our story. It’s summer 1896, and she’s returning with her family to Grange House, a mansion-turned-hotel on Maine’s coast.
It was the Gilded Age in America, a time when industries like oil, steel, banking, and railroads were booming. And names like Rockefeller, Carnegie, JP Morgan, Vanderbilt, and Standford had clout. This is the world in which Maisie’s family lives. Until now, her well-heeled industrialist father has been a good dad: He’s given Maisie a classical education and encouraged her to think for herself, much to her mother’s dismay. (Mother would prefer Maisie to be prim, proper, and ladylike, thank you very much.)
Now that Maisie has reached an appropriate age, all the adults are agreed it’s time for her to fulfill her destiny — to marry appropriately, make some babies, and bask in the reflected glow of her husband.
But Maisie wants none of this. She’s filled with an unnamed yearning, burning with a desire to do something else. And that fire is fueled by the proper spinster, authoress, and grande dame of Grange House, Miss Grange herself.
An enigmatic figure who speaks in portentous phrases, Miss Grange hints to Maisie that there’s a connection between long-buried secrets at Grange House and Maisie’s family. She bequeaths her journals to Maisie so the young girl can start unlocking the mysteries of the past.
The story is told first-person through Maisie’s teenage voice — plucky, hormone-fueled, sometimes dreamy, often confused — and Miss Grange’s atmospheric diaries. She recounts her own experiences of being a young girl at Grange House, and there is plenty to keep the proceedings delightfully creepy.
Author Sarah Blake holds a doctorate in Victorian literature, and she effectively uses every trick in her kit. There are dark woods, deep fogs that play tricks on the eyes, and a raging storm that batters the coast. There are enigmatic conversations that trail off ominously just before revealing too much, as well as swooning, fainting, deathbed requests, switched identities, a mysterious grave, and drowned lovers clasping each other for eternity.
This is a romp of a read. Fair warning: It might make you long to visit a fine old hotel tucked into the woods and bordered by Maine’s crashing surf.
Here was a room in which a thought could hover and remain. It ran the length of the house, a pair of high windows at either end where the roof came to a peak, so that when one looked out, one had the sensation of standing in the crow’s nest of a clipper ship. Indeed, standing at either of the windows gave an onlooker the full glory of a sweeping view: Out the front pair, one saw the wide swath of green lawn reaching down to meet the white rock of the shoreline, and thence to the sea; and out the back, the constellation of color shifted as the sky crossed the tangle of pine trees that formed the perimeter of the woods behind Grange House, the road to the town running along this edge like the crooked parting in a small child’s hair. — Sarah Blake
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