With everything feeling so serious at the moment maybe you need a light read to take your mind off things.
The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis (Rowan Coleman) is a delightful read for Brontë and mystery fans. It imagines the Brontë sisters as amateur sleuths who set about solving the mystery of the disappearance – and possible murder – of a young woman in a neighbouring town. Their investigations lead them to realisations about the darkness and light in human nature, and it also allows us to imagine that we know them more intimately.
When I read the synopsis of this I was imagining something along the lines of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. In other words something that aimed to be tongue-in-cheek, slightly camp and generally good fun, but ultimately fell a bit flat.
However this delivered so much more. On the surface it is a fun, light-hearted, humorous whodunit and the author is not above tipping a sly wink or two to the clichés of mystery writing. There is one cinematic description of the sisters throwing open the door on a stormy night to an unexpected visitor, complete with the obligatory crack of thunder and flash of lightning at exactly the right moment, which made me laugh out loud. If this were made into a film I would definitely watch it!
But the book also has a depth that throws the high points into relief, as Coleman also acknowledges issues that were important concerns to the Brontës – in particular the social and creative oppression of women. It’s not always done in the most subtle or sophisticated way, but she does a good job at hinting at the darkness in human nature while staying restrained enough to keep it on the gentler side of gritty; sensitive readers need not worry.
The personalities of Charlotte, Emily, Anne and Branwell – and even the indomitable Tabby – are obviously based on what we know of them from different sources, and it’s clear the author has done her research. Their characters are boldly drawn, and the sibling dynamic between them – complete with their bickering, exasperation, clashing egos and deep affection – is so familiar to anyone who grew up with siblings, and is just lovely to read. I loved how the sisters interacted with Branwell, and I think I warmed more to Emily through this than I was ever able to from Wuthering Heights!
I think “Bella Ellis” (a brilliant pen name by the way) had as much fun writing this as I had reading it. It is implied that the details and incidents in the book were the inspiration for a lot of the material in their novels and, as I enjoyed myself immensely drawing the connections between characters and events, I won’t spoil it for you by giving away too much here. Suffice it to say, it’s definitely a Brontëphile’s book.
It looks like this is the first book in a series and I hope it is, because I would certainly read any others.
Brown Brontë rating: 4 stars
The Vanished Bride is by Bella Ellis, and published by Hodder & Stoughton
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