Ashenden is an old, yet still grand, English country house. Falling into disrepair over the years, it can still impress, even if it’s just by the enormous cash reserves needed to heat the place. When Charlie and his sister Ros inherit the crumbling estate, the stress of how to care for the place takes a toll on their already distant relationship. The two begin consulting engineers and surveyors to determine what needs to be done, and whether or not selling or renovating is in their best interest or the house’s.
"What I enjoyed most about the book was the way all of the stories were tied together, each flowing smoothly into the next.... It’s such a lovely story and a satisfying read for a winter evening."
While a decision is made about the house’s future, its past begins to unfold, giving the reader a glimpse of the people it has sheltered, the sorrows and joys felt in its rooms, and the memories that have seeped into its walls. We are introduced to the individuals who have walked the halls of the house --- the architect who envisioned the grand space, the staff who kept the fires burning, the families who owned the property.
What I enjoyed most about the book was the way all of the stories were tied together, each flowing smoothly into the next. It wasn’t about the people but how the house was transformed over the years --- from a money pit that was wanted more for the prestige it bought but was ultimately unaffordable, to the original builder, the individuals who toured the house, and the sick it protected. The folks come and go, but the house itself is the one constant that brings everything together.
ASHENDEN is a mixture of short stories about the people who admired the grand house, found love and heartbreak inside its walls, and recovered in the green expanse that was part of the property. Its residents, owners and builders all make and break the house, and while the reader sees the past, it’s the current owners who are struggling with the future. I liked the way debut novelist Elizabeth Wilhide smoothly moves the story along while it remains in place at the same time. It’s a very effective way to tell the story of the house and make it more than simply a structure of bricks, glass and wood. It becomes a living part of the story and, in fact, the story itself. With each new chapter, I wanted to know how it was holding up and what it had become in its new reincarnation as it does change with each new generation that walks through the doors. From the start, you know it’s not a simple home but something built and imagined to be more than that.
Many of the stories told here are very sad, but overall I wouldn’t say that about the book. It made me smile many times, and even though the individual stories being told were not always happy on the whole, it was an honest look at the people who passed through the halls that I could appreciate --- nothing too sad but not all that happy either, a nice equilibrium of stories.
Elizabeth Wilhide is a writer who cares very much about the details, and it is those details that make ASHENDEN. Without the finer points and the clear image she creates of the house, the book wouldn’t work. The particulars create an invisible web that lets the plot meander, but always brings it back home. It’s such a lovely story and a satisfying read for a winter evening.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on January 18, 2013