Skip to main content

Set in Stone

Review

Set in Stone

Young aspiring artist Samuel Godwin isn't sure what to do with his chosen career. Having been forced to drop out of art school after his father's death, Samuel isn't qualified for many occupations, nor does he want to spend his life in an office. So, when wealthy, charismatic businessman Ernest Farrow advertises for an art tutor for his two teenaged daughters, Samuel jumps at the chance. And, when Farrow offers Samuel the position --- complete with a generous salary and plenty of time to pursue his own art --- the opportunity seems like a dream come true.

At first, Samuel's time at Farrow's luxurious, impeccably designed manor home, Fourwinds, seems like a dream, too. Samuel has adequate time to explore the grounds, sketch and gaze at Farrow's younger daughter, Marianne, with whom he immediately becomes infatuated. But as Samuel spends more time at Fourwinds, he begins to have questions: Why does Marianne roam the manor grounds at night? Why does Marianne's older sister Juliana always appear so quiet and sad? Who is the girls' enigmatic governess, Charlotte? And why was the previous artist at Fourwinds, a talented, handsome young sculptor, sent away before completing his masterpiece?

As Samuel delves into these questions, he unearths long-buried tragedies, harmful obsessions and the darkest kinds of family secrets, all of which reveal Fourwinds to be as artificial and illusive as one of Samuel's own paintings.

Linda Newbery's latest work is clearly a homage to classic Victorian gothics, including the novels of the Brontë sisters. But, seeing as her book was published in 2006, Newbery is able to include salacious details and sordid secrets that those Victorian writers could only vaguely hint at. The result is a thoroughly modern-feeling historical novel, which maintains its aura of authenticity by virtue of its narrators (Samuel and Charlotte, in alternating chapters), whose voices ring true for the time period.

The chapters alternating between Samuel and Charlotte's points of view also are an effective storytelling device. Both the art tutor and the governess come to the truth about the Farrow family through their own paths, often making assumptions and mistakes that obscure their understanding. The readers, though, have the benefit of both narrators' perspectives, allowing them always to stay several steps ahead of the characters as the truth slowly dawns on everyone.

This dramatic irony, along with the sensational nature of the plot, will keep readers wide awake and shivering late into the night.

   -

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on October 18, 2011

Set in Stone
by Linda Newbery

  • Publication Date: November 14, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: David Fickling Books
  • ISBN-10: 0385751028
  • ISBN-13: 9780385751025