Reviewing: The Lost Ones by Anita Frank

Trigger warnings: Suicide, loss of child, sexual assault, murder, rampant sexism.

My Rating: 4 Books out of 5

Highlights: 

  • I loved the portrayal of how female fear is viewed as illogical hysteria and male fear is justified and worth investigating. 
  • I love a good mystery book. 
  • Additional points for being historical and ghosty. Good job. 
  • Children are creepy, this book gets it. 

This book was looming on my TBR for a while and honestly I don’t know why it languished there for so long, it’s a historical mystery with ghosts – this thing had my name all over it. Nonetheless, it was there a while (sorry netgalley) and when I plucked it out of my TBR jar I knew the time had come. I was delving into the mysteries of Greyswick Manor. 

Stella Marcham was a very interesting main character, a former nurse on the front lines of the First World War, wrestling with her own personal grief alongside the widespread sense of it shared throughout the book’s cast of characters. A time at which life in stately homes was changing, where servants were called away to war, where jobs were appearing elsewhere that didn’t require waiting hand and foot on the well-to-do, it presented a curiously timed setting for a paranormal mystery. Visiting her sister, Stella is presented with the empty, cavernous home that is Greyswick and its odd assemblage of wealthy inhabitants and servants of various sketchiness, and a sister who swears she hears a child weeping in the night. 

Hysteria as a diagnosis looms large throughout The Lost Ones. Stella’s grief at losing her fiance to the war is belittled constantly, used as an argument against the soundness of her mental state as opposed to an entirely understandable reaction to a sudden and devastating loss. Her sister Madeleine is pregnant – and thus can obviously not be trusted to know her own mind, or the truth of the world she lives in. The women of this book are subject to intense scrutiny and threats of institutionalisation when the things they feel alarm the men in their lives. They are treated as creatures of emotion, entirely without reason or logical thinking, prone to overreaction and falsehoods. It might be understandable that their claims of supernatural happenings are being doubted if there weren’t an inescapable sense that they are not being doubted because their claims are incredible, but because they are women. 

The mix of WW1 setting and ghost story was a fantastic one, and one I wish I saw more of because honestly it’s very realistic. There was a well-documented rise in spiritualism after WW1, people just didn’t know what to do with all that death and trauma. SO many deaths without goodbyes, without the closure of burials, led people to seek these things without the physical traditions. If your son died in a field in France, could his spirit cross the Channel one last time to say farewell? Frank does a fantastic job of showing the sceptical hope that overcame both survivors of the front and those who never left their homes in England. Stella is traumatised, recovering from the bloody violence of the war and her own devastating loss, she hasn’t enough faith to even mouth along to the hymns in church. But when she hears the crying in the night, she struggles with the idea that she may have completely lost her mind or – more frighteningly- that she’s completely sane, and there really is a child weeping in the darkness of Greyswick.

A little bit of a slow starter for me, I chalked this down more to lockdown reading lethargy than any fault of the author, it certainly picked up in pace once the ghostly happenings kicked in. The empty house brought to mind the crumbling manor in Sarah Waters’s The Little Stranger, and coupled with the mystery of a child’s death it certainly wasn’t lacking in that wonderful gothic atmosphere I love so much in historicals. I did find myself guessing a few of the major plot twists ahead of time, but I’m not sure if I’ve simply read enough historical ghost stories by this point to put two and two together. My guessing certainly didn’t detract away from the book itself, the characters were unique enough to avoid the cookie cutter ‘master and servant’ dynamics that historical might drift towards, and there were quite a few moments that I found myself going ‘oh that’s clever’. 

Overall this was a very enjoyable book, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it despite the occasional slowing of pace. 

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