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Ashenden: A Novel by Elizabeth Wilhide
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Ashenden: A Novel (edition 2013)

by Elizabeth Wilhide

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1038117,210 (3.84)9
Member:justabookreader
Title:Ashenden: A Novel
Authors:Elizabeth Wilhide
Info:Simon & Schuster (2013), Hardcover, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****
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Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide

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When brother and sister Charlie and Ros learn that they have inherited their aunt's palatial English country house, they must decide whether to keep it or sell it. Ashenden has been in their family since the eighteenth century and is steeped in family history. As the siblings survey the effects of time on the estate's architectural treasures, a beguiling narrative spanning two and a half centuries unfolds.

We meet those who built the house, lived in it and loved it, worked in it, and those who would subvert it to their own ends. The walls of Ashenden echo with the lives of the architect who directs the building of the house in 1775; the wealthy and affluent Henderson family in their heyday; the maid who is tempted to solve her problems by stealing a trinket; the Jazz Age speculator who hosts a fabulous treasure hunt; the prisoners held there during World War II; and the young couple who lovingly restore it in the 1950's.

Each chapter is skillfully woven into the others so that the storylines of the upstairs and downstairs characters and their relatives and descendants intertwine to create a richly beautiful tapestry, full of humor, heart, and poignancy.

I absolutely loved this book. It was the type of story that I didn't want to end. I have always loved stories about houses and their histories; and this book was no exception. Elizabeth Wilhide is a new author for me and this is her debut novel, although she has written many, many books on interior design. I give this book an A+! ( )
  moonshineandrosefire | Mar 30, 2014 |
Ashenden is a charming historical read that concerns itself with the generations of owners and servants living in a manor house built in the English countryside in 1775. Beginning in the present when siblings Charlie and Ros inherit Ashenden upon the death of their great aunt, it meanders back to when its foundations were first carefully chosen and laid. Charlie and his sister must decide whether to sell it, or keep it for future generations of their family to enjoy. Charlie is happily married and settled in the United States, and sees the expense of the old mansion as prohibitive, but Ros is determined to save it, and has mapped out what she thinks is a plausible plan for its restoration.

Wilhide fills the story with history and atmosphere - the novel and its vignettes show the house in war time, poverty and at the height of its glory. Even as Ashenden, the novel explores how former owners have gained and lost the house and surrounding property, Ashenden itself is the star of the show, so much so that its almost pointless to bother getting attached to the people who live, work and die there. Their stories are picked up on a whim and dropped just as quickly, with some coming to more satisfying resolutions than others. Home restoration and architecture are prominently considered within the narrative, and readers who enjoy those details will find them in this pleasant, though rambling meditation on the history of a historic house. ( )
  daniellnic | Sep 25, 2013 |
What an absolutely brilliant idea for a book! Elizabeth Wilhide has taken the chequered history of Basildon Park (Netherfield in the 2005 Pride and Prejudice adaptation), building and owners, and turned the soul of a beautiful house into a series of nuanced vignettes, or short stories really. The modern day chapters which frame the story of Ashenden Park are perhaps the weakest, but I loved reading each and every segment, from the tragic tale behind the construction of the house in the late eighteenth century through to the war years, when Ashenden becomes a convalescent home during the First World War and a training ground in the Second.

Authors who 'borrow' from history tread a fine line - some can bring a famous biography or a notable building back to life, while others simply cannot weave a fictional narrative that stands up to the obviously inspirational source material. Wilhide hits the nail on the head - far from feeling that the real star of the story is Basildon Park, I feel that I now know more about the history of the original building from her creative reimaging of house and the people who lived there. All her characters are finely drawn, like housemaid Dulcie and her family, and she manages to fit a lifetime into a short chapter.

For those expecting a potboiler in the style of Downton Abbey, this might miss the mark, but for anyone into the true heritage of England's country houses, Elizabeth Wilhide has captured the 'beating heart' of a monument to past glory. ( )
  AdonisGuilfoyle | Jul 28, 2013 |
I only give a 5 star once or twice a year and this book has all the stars… A book about the history of an english manor or they refer to a park, from the first stones set to make the foundation to the current owners and how it grew and lived through their varied history. Written by an architect, she writes in detail that keeps you captivated the whole book, please write more. ( )
  mchwest | May 19, 2013 |
Ashenden has been marketed "for fans of Downton Abbey," and I have to agree. The house itself is not particularly fascinating, but as a setting for stories linked through time, it is perfect. From its beginnings in 1775 up through 2010, the house evolves: there are phases of building, stalling, decay, repair, and rebuilding; times of good fortune for its occupants and times of strain; the house is an albatross or a treasure, depending on the point of view of its inhabitants.

The inhabitants, of course, are not just Ashenden's various owners, but also servants, guests, convalescing soldiers during WWI, and German POWs during WWII. In each successive section, the reader will recognize one or more characters from previous sections: sons and daughters, nieces and nephews and cousins, a governess turned schoolteacher, a POW turned husband, father, business owner. Though the reader doesn't spend enough time with any of the characters to create powerful, lasting memories (this is my impression, having just finished), Wilhide successfully convinces the reader to care about each character, as well as the fate of Ashenden.

Overall, an enjoyable and pleasurable read.

Quotes:

Some houses you lived in; others lived in you. (Georgiana, p. 80, The Portrait: 1837)

America was full of new money and new money loved old things. (George Ferrars, p. 218, The Treasure Hunt: 1929)

The reaction was immediate and, as it was an English reaction, almost invisible to the untrained eye. (Izzie Beckmann, p. 321, The Fete: 1976)

If these are ghosts, they are friendly ones, who slip past in the thin cold air and leave no disturbance or sadness behind. It's the gentlest form of haunting, really, a smile fading from a face, or a forgotten tune playing in the next room. Ghosts are only to be expected when the house contains so much time. (Reggie, p. 325, The Winter Season: 2010)

When someone died, you missed their physical presence first, the warmth in the bed, all the tones and shadings of their speech, the footsteps or sighs or rustlings in the next room, even the irritations and annoyances. You missed these things as if your skin had been peeled off in long, bleeding strips. When all that became less painful, you still missed their mind, the consciousness that partnered with yours, that gave you bifocal vision. (Reggie, p. 332, The Winter Season: 2010) ( )
  JennyArch | Apr 3, 2013 |
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An epic saga of the upstairs and downstairs residents of an English country house which spans some 240 years and includes the stories of its original architect, a Victorian family that shared four decades of family history, soldiers billeted in the house during World War I, and a young couple who restores the house in the 1950s.… (more)

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