« The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen, reviewed by Casey Dorman | Main | The Nature of Man: Fry and Tomasello reviewed by Casey Dorman »

Dovecote by Anne Britting Oleson. Reviewed by Casey Dorman


Dovecote by Anne Britting Oleson

Bink Books

Fairfield, CA



A small English coastal village is where widowed Gwynne Forrest finds herself after inheriting the tiny Gull Cottage owned by her late great aunt Gwynneth Chelton, her American grandmother’s sister whom she had never met. It’s a house that seems unfriendly from the moment she steps into it. There are strange sounds in the night, a garden with brambles that not only grow back as soon as they are cut, but which reach out their grasping vines to slice her skin when she walks among them. And then there is the mysterious garden beyond the gate, the garden containing the abandoned and decaying dovecote, even more forbidding than the house itself. The only saving graces are the people who come to tend the house: Mary, the housekeeper and Colin the handyman who brings the wood, both having served her great aunt for years. As it turned out, they were years of unthanked service, since Gwynneth Chelton was a morose and lonely woman who asked and gave almost nothing to those around her. But Mary and Colin were devoted to her, as they soon are to Gwynne.

The setting of Dovecote is at least half of the novel’s charm. The homey, English ways of making tea, of walking from one place in the village to another, the familiar names of kitchen utensils and furniture. Gull Cottage and its surrounds are fully picturable to the reader.

But what starts out as a cozy story of settling into life in a new, classically English surrounding soon becomes a story of mysterious and unseen forces, dominated by the personalities of the dead occupants of the cottage and the message they have for Gwynne. Her great aunt’s life was an unpleasant one—fully attributable to her husband— and after his suicide she live for 50 years as a solitary widow, telling no one of the horrors of her marriage. But Gwynne, whose own life and marriage and the death of her own husband mirrored that of her great aunt’s, has been summoned to the village and the house, through the inheritance, for a reason, which she and the reader will slowly and circuitously find out as the story progresses as a first-class mystery.

Did I mention that there are ghosts? Well there are, and although I don’t generally enjoy ghost stories, this one is as much a story of emotions and relationships as it is one of ghosts. Gwynne’s great aunt has something to tell her and Gwynne finds she has a task to perform—if only she can find out what it is. And finding out involves learning about her great aunt's first love, Martin, who, although now 94 years old, joins Gwynne in solving the mystery. And Colin, who becomes a lover, but finds that the same emotional blocks that strangled the life of Gwynneth Chelton for 50 years, have their hands about the heart of her niece. Only solving the mystery of Gwynneth Chelton's marriage, life, and dath can save Gwynne, who is in both emotional and real physical danger.

This is an excellent story for lovers of mysteries, ghost stories and of excellent, literary writing. The author, Anne Britting Oleson is a first-class poet and she writes beautifully, sensitively and tenderly, exploring emotions as well as a complex plot. I recommend this book to everyone. It will keep you reading and guessing and simply enjoying the act of reading until you reach the very end.

Casey Dorman, Editor: Lost Coast Review

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>