The Animals at Lockwood Manor is both a WWII historical fiction novel and a romantic gothic mystery all rolled into one. While it missed the mark a bit for me, the writing was tremendous and I loved the overall arc of the narrative.
Our story opens with the mammal collection at the London Natural History Museum being moved into a country manor house once the reality of WWII sets in. Our primary narrator, Hetty, is a female curator who is looking to redeem herself from a prior workplace folly as the director of the temporary location. While there, she encounters the imperious Lord Lockwood and his beautiful daughter, Lucy. Hetty’s relationship to Lord Lockwood is strained at best, but she finds a surprising confident in Lucy, who is the secondary narrator of the story. Through Lucy, we hear of the somewhat insidious history of Lockwood Manor, from her troubled childhood interactions with her mentally ill mother to the unexpected deaths of her mother and grandmother immediately prior to the events of the novel.
While there are wonderful aspects of this novel (Lucy and Hetty’s relationship, Hetty’s dedication to the museum’s collection and the real life basis for the museum’s move are among the highlights), I struggled a bit with the “gothic mystery” aspect. I love a good gothic story, especially one with the type of intriguing elements that appear in this book, such as whispers of ghosts and missing museum pieces. The issue I have is that this novel tended toward the psychological to encourage fear and questioning, rather than concrete evidence. Perhaps because I tend toward mysteries in my general reading, I found that portion of this story lacking, and it contributed to my overall lackluster reaction to the big reveal at the end.
I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in WWII, especially for fans of The Monuments Men, and to fans of gothic mysteries such as Rebecca or Jane Eyre (who the author is named after!). I just caution that you not expect this to be exactly like those creations; this is a book all its own, and it’s a fantastic debut.