The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

‘You’re late.’

In the present, Thea Rust, a history teacher from Australia, arrives at Oxleigh College, an exclusive boarding school, in the British countryside.   Oxleigh College has accepted the first intake of females in its 150-year history, and Thea is to live with them in their residence: The Silk House.

In 1768, Rowan Caswell is engaged as a maid to work in the home of an English silk merchant in the village of Oxleigh.  She has a talent for the use of herbs in healing, which soon attracts attention.

In 1768 in London, Mary-Louise Stephenson dreams of becoming a silk designer.  This is work traditionally confined to men.

 All three of these stories will intersect.  The Silk House is full of secrets, and tragedy.

In the present, Thea is troubled by mysterious unexplained events in The Silk House.  She starts investigating the history of the building and its occupants.

In the past, Mary-Louise’s silk weaving skills have expanded to include beautiful patterns of plants, some of which are deadly.  And Rowan is prevailed upon to use her knowledge of plants in ways that could be dangerous.

The story moves between the three women, between past and present.  Can Mary-Louise succeed as a silk designer?  Will Rowan be safe?  And what about the silk Mary-Louise designs?  Will Thea uncover the mystery (or should that be mysteries?) within The Silk House?

This is the third of Ms Nunn’s novels I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  This is terrific historical fiction with a brooding gothic mystery, a building with a past, peopled with well-developed characters.

Highly recommended.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Hachette Australia for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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