Lucy Braithwhite lives a privileged existence as the heir to the fortune of Braithwhite & Company-the most successful purveyor of luxury wallpapers in England and the world over. The company’s formulas have been respected for nearly a century, but have always remained closely guarded and cloaked in mystery. No one has ever been able to explain the originality of Braithwhite & Company’s designs, or the brilliance of their colours, leaving many to wonder if the mysterious spell-like effect of their wallpapers is due simply to artistry, or perhaps something more sinister.
When Mr Luckhurst, the company’s manager, and the man who has acted as surrogate father to Lucy and her invalid brother John since they were children, suddenly dies, Lucy is shocked to discover that there is no succession plan in place. Who will run the company and ensure that it-and her family-continue to thrive?
The answer soon arrives in the form of the young and alluring Julian Rivers, who, unbeknownst to Lucy and John, has been essential to the company’s operations for some time. At first, he seems like the answer to their prayers, but as Lucy begins piecing together Julian’s true intentions, and John begins seeing distortions-and soon spectral visions-in the house’s wallpaper, it becomes clear to Lucy that she must do everything within her power to oppose the diabolic forces that have risen up to destroy her family.
Taking place at the height of the arsenic wallpaper controversy of the late 19th century, The Company is an intoxicatingly atmospheric slice of gothic Victoriana, following one woman’s fight to preserve all that she holds dear, and her determination to defeat the monsters that surround her.
Hi and welcome to my review of The Company!
I had just finished Laura Purcell’s The Whispering Muse and found myself craving more historical fiction. Running through the options, I decided that a story set against the backdrop of arsenic poisoning would be just the thing to scratch that itch. So you see, that’s how The Company and I got off on the wrong foot. Firstly, because Laura Purcell is my go-to Gothic fiction author and I enjoyed her latest novel immensely, so picking up a book in the exact same genre right after was always a bit unfair. Secondly, because the aspect that drew me in most, the whole arsenic business, is not as prominently present as I’d thought it would be.
I won’t summarise the story here, the blurb is more than elaborate enough, and what I gleaned from it was that The Company would be a suspenseful story focussing on the wallpaper business, the use of arsenic, the discovery of its dangers and how this renowned wallpaper emporium is faced with those issues and, presumably, with the actual health hazard as well, as I would expect this family to have the wallpaper they fabricate plastered all over their own walls.
There is some of that, and those were the parts I enjoyed most. Still, a lot of this book felt a bit convoluted to me and I felt a tad discombobulated on more than one occasion. The elements that supposedly were to invoke a Gothic vibe were just confusing to me and drew me out of the story instead of into it. Furthermore, while I’m usually quite a fan of the atmospheric, slow-burning, scene-setting build-up using vague references to “later” and the narrator telling the story with the wisdom of hindsight, which we all know is 20-20, here it just didn’t work for me. I enjoy books that make me think and ponder and wonder, but books that make me wonder what I’ve missed, and whether there might be a hidden layer I’m too dense to pick up on? Not so much.
Look, this is not a bad book by any means, in my humble opinion there is just better historical fiction out there. I’m sure many people will enjoy it more than I did, and going in with the right expectations will probably also help, so don’t let me put you off.
The Company is out in digital formats, audio and hardcover on 16 March.
Many thanks to Baskerville (John Murray Press) and NetGalley for the eARC. All opinions are my own.