Book Review: Wentworth Hall by Abby Grahame

Wentworth Hall by Abby GrahameI love period drama. I love the setting, the romance, the society, the scandals, the gossip, the class system, the history, the dresses…

Wentworth Hall promised to be the perfect escape for fans of Downton Abbey. What I got was a poorly written, badly edited, quickly thrown together book that was full of plot holes, historical inaccuracies and lacking in any originality or depth.

Maggie Darlington has returned home to Wentworth Hall after a year in Paris. No longer the friendly, outgoing, passionate girl she used to be, Maggie has become cold and reserved. Lila, resentful of forever being overshadowed by her older sister, is nonetheless hurt by Maggie’s distance. But Maggie has her own reasons for holding everyone she cares for at a distance and she’s not the only one at Wentworth Hall with a secret…

Wentworth Hall is a short novel. Far too short to cram in the amount of drama and subplots that Grahame attempts to cover here. The narrative jumps back and forth between roughly ten(?) different characters, each of whom have their own ’scandalous secret’. Lack of time, and I suspect, inclination, on the authors part to properly develop any of these characters means Wentworth Hall is full of bland, cliché-ridden caricatures and dull, predictable plot lines from the start.

Rather than giving us refreshing, believable protagonists we can root for, Grahame merely rehashes the same old characters we’ve all seen before in this genre and frankly, have seen been done better. Rather than creating an atmosphere and allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the early 1900’s, Grahame gives us little detail about the time period and lapses into jarring modern phrases,

Nora looked deeply into his eyes, as if studying his level of sincerity. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, patting his hand back.’You know you are a supreme git, don’t you?’ Her face broke out into a grin. ‘Oh just write the sodding letter for me, would you?’

(I could be wrong, but a quick search online suggest that ‘git’, spelt with an ‘i’ and not an ‘e’, wasn’t used as an insult as it is today until around the 1940’s, though ‘get’ between the 1500 and 1700’s was a general term for fool, idiot, or bastard.)

Nor do we get to experience the evolving relationships between the characters in real-time. Instead, all the romance takes place previous to the book and the reader is informed of their feelings , with no back story, no build up and no emotion to back it up. Plot lines are halfheartedly taken up, only to be resolved within pages. Some characters, along with their story arcs, simply disappear altogether. It was bland, it was boring, and it was lazy writing. While a lot of this book tended towards the ridiculous, I felt some parts had potential, if only Grahame had focused in on a select few characters and properly explored their individual stories in more depth.

A lot of these issues I’ve mentioned are somewhat subjective, but Wentworth Hall also suffers from basic errors, inconsistencies and is in serious need of an editor.

“Deja vu!” explained Grace.

“Excuse me?” Mrs. Howard asked, arching one eyebrow as though Helen had said something a bit racy.

Other sentences are just plain awkward to read and seem to switch tense in the middle,

‘So it is!’ Richina said with a jaunty laugh. As she threw her head back to chortle, her earrings ring and her many bracelets tinkling like a crystal chandelier falling from the ceiling.’

Its obvious Wentworth Hall has been put together as quickly as possible in order to cash in on the success of Downton Abbey. It’s a mystery to me then, why a book aimed at period fans would neglect to do even the most basic of research. Throughout, Maggie and Lila’s father is called ‘Lord Darlington’, which is incorrect. Peers use their titles as if it were a surname, but in Wentworth Hall we never learn what his title is, or even what level of nobility he belongs to. As a basic rundown, there are five levels of peerage in Britain: Dukes, Marquess, Earls, Viscounts and Barons. Dukes, the highest rank, are addressed as ‘You Grace’ and known as ‘The Duke of (Title)’. Everyone else is addressed as ‘Lord (Title)’, not ‘Lord (Surname)’. For example, Robert Crawley of Downton Abbey is always called ‘Lord Grantham’, you never hear anyone say ‘Lord Crawley’. (For those who are interested, non peers, Baronets and Knights, would have been addressed as ‘Sir Firstname, Lastname’, but never ‘Sir Lastname’. A Baronetcy can be passed down through the family, but a knighthood is for the duration of a lifetime only). It’s a small thing, but it really niggled at me and I’m sure there are other things that I missed.

While I’ll admit to being slightly bemused by this book whilst reading, I am annoyed when I consider that I paid £5 for the thing. Wentworth Hall is a very, very pale imitation of a certain TV show and The Luxe trilogy by Anna Godbersen, down to the society pages that Grahame includes in an attempt at satire (and which were particularly badly written). I’m disappointed in Simon & Schuster for even publishing it. A quick check revealed the copyright of this one actually belongs to the publisher, so I suspect ‘Abby Grahame’ is in fact a ghost writer.  Sadly, it shows.

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