Spanning more than two centuries, the history of Ashenden Park is related through events in the lives of its human inhabitants.
Through times of tragedy, glamour, war, and revival, the house itself stands as a silent witness to the fortunes of the individuals and families passing over its grounds. Wilhide’s novel reads as a collection of short stories, the presence of Ashenden Park binding the tales together. Stretching from the construction of the house in 1775 to modern day, each episode serves as a marker in the house’s history. These markers bring to light new aspects of the building as the narration jumps between different classes, between the owners of the house and those who work on it. We see the stones through the eyes of the architect, view the grounds from the perspective of a playboy heir, and experience the interiors through the sensations of a broken hearted woman who adopts Ashenden as a substitute child. The characters invest life into the house, allowing the structure itself to reflect the humanity coursing through its hallways and gardens.
While the author’s background in architecture is evident from the beginning, her handling of the human story is adept. Wilhide does not take the easy road in telling the house’s story and this makes the novel more enjoyable for readers who have grown increasingly familiar with old estates due to productions such as Downton Abbey. The eras captured in this novel are not necessarily the obvious ones you would expect: instead of giving a portrait of Ashenden as a buzzing army headquarters during the Second World War, we are instead surprised by a tale of the exodus of German POWs from the manor at the close of war in 1946. Meaningful, fresh storytelling is combined with a celebration of English design in this delightful read.