By Kayte Nunn
“Weaving. Witchcraft. Herbalism.”
I enjoy Kayte Nunn’s historical fiction novels — my particular favourite is, The Lost Letters of Esther Durrant. I love the way she eases you into the narrative — enticingly dipping you into time and place.
The Silk House is right on point for me again — but I think it’s all the richer for its sprinkling of alchemy.
This is a dual narrative, set in an unusual old building with an extensive, but somewhat troubled past. Thea Rust, is an Australian history teacher whose change of circumstance necessitates she resides in the building, now a boarding school. As boarding mistress to the first intake of female students in Oxleigh College’s long history, Thea becomes interested in the building and the village where rumours of strange hauntings and circles of witches have been linked to its history. Naturally, Thea doesn’t believe it. Nonetheless, a mystery relating to the building reveals ghosts from the past, as Thea is drawn into stories of the 18th century silk trade.
The second timeline dates to the late 1700s, where servant, Rowan Caswell, works in the household of a silk merchant of dubious character. A touch of the fey, some magical elements and healing herbs, and before you know it, a haunting mystery develops. Young Rowan is innocently drawn into an intrigue concerning the mistress of the household — and her life is threatened because of it.
"The ground floor was a shopfront, and displayed in the window to her left were bolts of fine cloth: plain, striped and some were richly woven with exotic birds and flowers. It was to be several months before she would learn that the colours that so delighted her were turquoise, chartreuse, violet and vermilion, but only a few weeks before she would feel fine silk fabric between fingers that had previously only known coarse linen and broadcloth."
It’s always a delight to see how two eras weave together — in a literal as well as a figurative sense. Throughout the narrative a third storyline is revealed —it is beautifully written. Mary is a silk designer, a career that was almost the sole domain of men, at the time. In my opinion, Mary is the heart of the story. She creates floral designs of immense beauty, but one of these depicts a trail of dangerous herbs —the rest you can only imagine.
And with a kiss and a promise, all is not revealed until the final pages. The Silk House a beautiful, haunting and delightfully evocative story.
Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.