“The house contains time. Its walls hold stories. Births and deaths, comings and goings, people and events passing through. . . . For now, however, it lies suspended in a kind of emptiness, as if it has fallen asleep or someone has put it under a spell. This silence won’t last: can’t last. Something will have to be done.”
When brother and sister Charlie and Ros discover that they have inherited their aunt’s grand English country house, they must decide if they should sell it. As they survey the effects of time on the estate’s architectural treasures, a narrative spanning two and a half centuries unfolds. We meet those who built the house, lived in it and loved it, worked in it, and those who would subvert it to their own ends. Each chapter is skillfully woven into the others so that the storylines of the upstairs and downstairs characters and their relatives and descendants intertwine to make a rich tapestry. A beautifully written novel full of humor, heart, and poignancy, Ashenden is an evocative portrait of a house that becomes a character as compelling as the people who inhabit it.
Read an Excerpt
The Cuckoo’s Egg: 2010
Winter has been hard on the house, the bitter cold eating into the honey-colored stonework, causing portions of the façade to crumble and flake away. Even in the external areas that are less exposed—under overhangs, for example—where the weeks of severe frost have been prevented from doing their worst, fresh staining has appeared in ugly blotches that bloom like malevolent flowers of decay.
Ashenden Park, built towards the end of the eighteenth century, and one of the finest late Palladian houses in the country according to those who make it their business to... see more
Reading Group Guide
Ashenden is the story of a magnificent English country house, the estate that surrounds it, and the people connected to it over the course of 240 years. From its construction in 1775 to the present day, we are witness to the people associated with the house: the architect and his nieces to the successions of families, both happy and not, who inhabit it—the maids and servants who tend the house and grounds; a speculator who resides in the house nearly alone; soldiers billeted there during World War I; prisoners held there during World War II; the couple who rescues it from doom in the 1950s and their descendants, who inherit it in 2010. Throughout all the upheavals of a multicentury life, a constant cycle of neglect and regeneration, and the toll of history, the house withstands it all, always strong enough to endure change.
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Ashenden opens in the present day with siblings Charlie and Ros debating what to do with the house they have suddenly inh see more