After ministering to fallen women in Victorian London, Evelyn has suffered a nervous breakdown and finds herself treated by the Water Doctors in the imposing Wakewater House, a hydropathy sanatorium. Years later, Wakewater House is renovated into modern apartments and Kirsten moves in, fresh from a break up and eager for the restorative calm of the Thames. But her archivist neighbour, Manon, fills her head with the river's murky past and with those men of science and art who were obsessed with the drowned women who were washed up on its banks. As Kirsten learns more about Wakewater's secrets, she becomes haunted by a solitary figure in the river and increasingly desperate to understand what the water wants from her.
Not my usual type of reading but to be fair I quite enjoyed it.
We have a dual timeline narrative.
In the present day Kirsten has moved into her newly renovated apartment over-looking the Thames at Wakewater house. She’s separated from her boyfriend-fiancee-fellah (not quite sure which – though it was a serious relationship) Lewis and she’s trying to move on with her life. The proximity to the Thames and the lure of the water compelled her to take the apartment. The only other apartment occupied is taken by Manon, a rather strange woman who has a similar obsession with the water and the history of the building which was previously a sanatorium for women.
The pair takes riverside walks and there are quite odd happenings. Kirsten’s apartment floods from above, but there’s no apparent source for the water. A strange figure is often seen on the banks of the Thames and once when followed enters the apartment and disappears, leaving wet footprints behind. Manon falls in her flat and departs in an ambulance muttering strangely, plus she has a jittery cat!
In our other narrative we meet Evelyn, a Victorian do-gooder and helper of fallen prostitutes. Evelyn has suffered burn-out and had a breakdown. Her family have sent her off to Wakewater to be treated and get better. We learn Evelyn’s backstory and discover that she was involved intimately with Millie a prostitute she tried to help. Millie, being with-child eventually drowning herself in the Thames. Apparently (and I’m going to google it to check) a lot of prostitutes met a similar fate – they do in our story at least. The Thames and its water is the other big brooding character in this book.
Millie remains a haunting presence and influences both outcomes for Evelyn and Kirsten. A real ghostly presence or imagined through some mental disintegration of our protagonists? I’m not quite sure and I don’t think it matters.
For some reason that I can’t articulate, I really liked the book, even though it is a million miles from my preferred reading genre. A ghost story or a psychological mind-fuck? Who cares?
4 from 5
Thanks to Salt Publishing for my copy of this one.
V. H. Leslie had a collection of stories released in 2015 – Skein and Bone. She has a website here.
Read in August, 2016