Yet, disappointingly, the first half of the novel reads like a rather contrived pastiche of all three. Sophia Tobin’s third work opens as servant girl Annaleigh makes the arduous journey from London to Yorkshire, where she is about to become housekeeper for a mysterious master residing in his gothic mansion. Sound familiar? Indeed, as the carriage drops her off on a bleak moor in a storm, forcing her to find some alternative method of transport to her new home, we are at peak Jane Eyre. And once she arrives, transported gallantly to her destination by the attractive and slightly boyband-esque Thomas Digby, the cast of characters is predictably rolled out one by one.
Marcus Twentyman is Mr Rochester. His sister, Hester, is Marin in The Miniaturist in another guise. We have the gruff, but apparently supportive servants in the form of Jeanne and her husband Sorsby. All fall neatly into their expected roles: Marcus is terrifying and imposing at first, yet strangely compelling for emotionally inexperienced Annaleigh, whose presence appears to soften his hardened heart. Hester is strange and downtrodden and initially brittle and critical – yet gradually shows kindness towards the newcomer.
To be honest, I was about to give up. I was bored and irritated and, I have to admit, dear reader, that if it wasn’t for you, I may well have done so. But then things improved. Characters began to act in surprising and occasionally shocking ways. Evil wound its way on to the pages.
Without giving too much away, Annaleigh’s earlier gripes about a strange and hostile house, eventually prove to be well founded. I was hooked. Characters who had failed to engage my attention early on gripped me in the latter part of the book with such ferociousness that, once it was finished, I felt bereft.
The Vanishing isn’t perfect. Yet Tobin, an antiques specialist-turned-novelist, has created a vivid sense of the period which stays with the reader.