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Rachel Knox
House Under the Hill

Adult; General Fiction (including literary and historical); (Create)

The year is 1954. Eight-year-old Alis loves her life in the decaying mansion, Gwylfa Hiraethog, but it is sold and the family must move on. During a snowstorm, while playing hide-and-seek with her older brother and sister, Alis goes missing. Her siblings know more than they are letting on and try to keep their sister’s disappearance secret. They must search for Alis in the ‘other-house’, the dark and empty part of the mansion, and it is here that they will find mysterious remnants of the original family, the wealthy Kearleys. A fact-based historical novel about the Jacobean-style mansion, Gwylfa Hiraethog, which was built and rebuilt in North Wales, between 1894–1913, and derelict by the 1950s. This is the story of the first and last family to live at the house, the rise and fall of a golden age, and the onset of war and decline; played out against the backdrop of the house on the hill.
Knox melds historical sources with fictional characters to create a pleasant work narrated by a house in Wales. The novel lacks a conventional plot; it intersperses moments from the lives of the real Kearley family from the first decades of the 20th century with an extended story of a game of hide and seek gone wrong in 1954. The house is Gwylfa Hiraethog, meaning roughly “watchtower of longing,” and was christened by none other than Prime Minister David Lloyd George, and is “the highest inhabited house in Wales.” A speech by Lloyd George features, as does a vignette of the Kearleys on the home front during the Great War. Gwylfa occasionally imparts commentary on the residents of the moment or its increasingly dilapidated state. Knox concludes with Gwylfa’s final thoughts from 2018 and a photo of the shell of the house as it is today. Knox’s prose is buoyant and keeps the book from bogging down into a dense historical text. Though light, this diverting novel is notable for its detailed and lively depiction of its setting. (BookLife)