The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde
When fifteen-year-old Margot and her three sisters arrive at Applecote Manor in June 1959, they expect a quiet English country summer. Instead, they find their aunt and uncle still reeling from the disappearance of their daughter, Audrey, five years before. As the sisters become divided by new tensions when two handsome neighbors drop by, Margot finds herself drawn into the life Audrey left behind. When the summer takes a deadly turn, the girls must unite behind an unthinkable choice or find themselves torn apart forever.
Fifty years later, Jesse is desperate to move her family out of their London home, where signs of her widower husband’s previous wife are around every corner. Gorgeous Applecote Manor, nestled in the English countryside, seems the perfect solution. But Jesse finds herself increasingly isolated in their new sprawling home, at odds with her fifteen-year-old stepdaughter, and haunted by the strange rumors that surround the manor.
The Vanishing of Audrey Wilde is set in two different timeframes where the disappearance of a young girl, Audrey Wilde, is central to the theme. In the 19502, the four Wilde sisters, Flora, Pam, Margot and Dot, are sent to stay with their aunt and uncle at Applecote Manor for the summer. The sisters are reluctant to do as Aunt Sybil and Uncle Perry have never been the same since the disappearance of their only child, Audrey, five years prior. Audrey’s disappearance plays especially heavy on the mind of Margot who was the same age as Audrey when she went missing and things get drastically more complicated when Sybil begins to fixate on Margot.
When the sisters first arrive, they are warned to never go into Audrey’s room as it remains ready for her return but Margot is drawn to it like a magnet. Believing her brief visits are going undetected, Margot is horrified when she realises Sybil has known all along and begins to encourage Margot to wear Audrey’s clothes that have been resized. Margot goes along with it initially as she believes it can do no harm and puts Sybil in a good mood but alarm bells begin to ring when Sybil gets more obsessive. As the secret meetings in Audrey’s room become more frequent, Margot is dismayed when she realises the relationship with her sisters is becoming more fractured.
As the long summer continues with no word from their mother, the sisters are delighted when two handsome boys appear on the other side of the river to make life a little more interesting. One of the boys, Harry, comes from a wealth family and Flora is encouraged to pursue a relationship to ensure her future. Apart from Dot, the youngest, the sisters begin to compete for the attention of the boys and cracks begin to appear in their relationship. For Margot, who develops a crush on Harry, it is hard watching Flora take all of his attention away from her particularly when she learns Harry was close to Audrey that last summer. As the summer draws to an end, a terrible secret will be revealed and the sisters will become part of another secret.
In the present day, Jess and her husband, Will, buy Applecote Manor to get away from the frantic pace of life in London, however the place has been left to fall into disrepair and it will take a great effort to bring it back to life. Jess’ teenage stepdaughter, Bella, claims Audrey’s old room and soon becomes obsessed with her story. Jess and Bella already have a troubled relationship as the girl resents Jess for marrying her father and trying to replace her dead mother. As Will’s business in the city flounders, he spends more time away from the family home and everything begins to fragment. As the cold winter months bring their own danger, Jess worries she has done the wrong thing in bringing her family to the Manor to live.
The two timeframes blend in really well together and Chase does a fantastic job of recreating those lazy summer days in the Fifties. While both families may be generations apart, the problems they are enduring are not all that different as Margot and Bella are both on the cusp of womanhood and grieving the loss of a parent. While the two families both have their issues to resolve, they arrive at Applecote mostly intact but something begins to drive them apart and the house almost seems sinister at times lending everything a gothic feel.
The mystery of Audrey’s disappearance is threaded carefully throughout with Margot getting to play detective as she follows the clues to their ultimate conclusion. Chase is very good at complex characters who initially appear as one thing then become increasingly ambiguous as the story progresses. I loved the characters from both timeframes but the Wilde sisters were definitely more interesting and it was sad when summer came to an end.