Our book club choice for August is Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide, the story of a quintessentially English country house through the lives of the characters who inhabit it from the 18th century to the present day.
Spring 2010. When Charlie and Ros inherit Ashenden from their Aunt Reggie a decision must be made. The beautiful eighteenth-century house, set in acres of English countryside, is in need of serious repair. Do they try to keep it in the family, or will they have to sell? Moving back in time, in an interwoven narrative spanning two and a half centuries, we witness the house from its beginnings through to the present day. Along the way we meet those who have built the house, lived in it and loved it; those who have worked in it, fallen in love within its walls, and those who would subvert it to their own ends, including Mrs Trimble, housekeeper to the rackety, spendthrift Mores; the wealthy Henderson family, in their Victorian heyday; Walter Beckmann, the German POW incarcerated there; and Reggie and Hugo, agents of its postwar revival.
Ashenden is an evocative reflection on England and its past as well as a meditation on why we all feel so strongly about where we live. It is loosely based on the real history of Basildon Park, immortalised as Netherfield in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice (the one with Keira Knightley).
The book has already received rave reviews. The Guardian said, "Although billed as the 'ideal novel' for fans of Downton Abbey, Ashenden is an affecting, intelligent debut which goes way beyond posh country house antics," while the Mail praised its "pleasurably subtle web of connections....a beguilingly effortless read".
This is Elizabeth Wilhide's first novel, published in her late fifties after years plugging away writing fiction in her spare time. She is the author of over 20 non-fiction titles on interior design and architecture and has collaborated with authors such as Terence Conran and Tricia Guild. Born in the United States, she moved to Britain in her teens.She lives with her husband, an architect, and their two children in the East End of London.
We'll be doing a Q&A with Elizabeth Wilhide - so please add your questions to the thread before 17 September.