The most unflinching portrait of aristocratic dysfunction since Goya, "Tyringham Park" puts the "down" in "Downton Abbey."
Tyringham Park is being promoted as "an Irish Downton Abbey." Having never watched the hit BBC show, I might not be the best person to comment on the accuracy of that claim, but I'll try. Like Downton Abbey, Tyringham Park includes a post-Edwardian estate, wealthy landowners and salt-of-the-earth servants. It also presents a set of social conventions so monstrous they leave contemporary readers not the least bit nostalgic for the good old days.
Beyond that, I'm guessing the similarities end. I say that because while I have not watched Downton Abbey myself, I have had the pleasure of watching my wife watch Downton Abbey. In those rapt instances, I've seen her smile, laugh, cheer, gasp, sigh and cry. Downton, it seems, provides for a wide range of emotional responses. Tyringham Park? Not so much. I'm reasonably certain that if my wife were to read Rosemary McLoughlin's debut novel, her reactions would go no further than gasping and crying. Tyringham Park, you see, is a bit of a downer.
Mind you, that's not a bad thing. A lot of great fiction tends toward depressing. I mention it only to provide a cautionary note. Those hoping to root for a plucky maid or hitch their wagon to the star of an ambitious footman are advised to look elsewhere. The characters in Tyringham Park aren't really like that. There are a lot of emotionally damaged people in this little slice of history, and very little redemption.
The story itself follows the fates of three women, all inextricably linked to the tragic disappearance of two-year-old Victoria Blackshaw in 1917. Charlotte, Victoria's older sister, is left mute and despondent. Victoria's mother Edwina is suspicious of the locals, becoming convinced her daughter was kidnapped. Nurse Dixon has her own secrets to keep as well as close ties to a recently departed servant. The novel opens with Victoria's disappearance and spans the next quarter century, following each woman as she attempts to reconcile the life-altering events of that fateful day.
Along the way, readers are witness to all manner of transgressions, deception and cruelty. And while the actions themselves are deplorable, the saddest moments in Tyringham Park come with the realization that each character seems locked into a role they were destined to play. There's a crushing inevitability to the way Tyringham Park unfolds; a sense not just that things are wrong, but that they can never be made right. That makes for a sad tale, and one that suggests our will is not so free as we'd like to believe.
I am the library manager at Northwest Library. When I'm not reading fantastic books, I enjoy painting, writing, traveling and getting my hands dirty tinkering on vintage Italian scooters. My previous lives include time spent playing in punk rock bands, and working in the food service industry.