What a peculiar book The Animals at Lockwood Manor tried out to be! From the blur on the back I was instantly drawn into the story and convinced that this was the type of book that I would lose myself in. Yet I ended up finding myself drawn into a disturbing story that left me feeling quite strangely the end.
Starting in August 1939, The Animals at Lockwood Manor follows 30 year old Hetty Cartwright as she is put in charge of evacuating the natural history museum’s mammal collection out of London to the safety of the fictitious Lockwood Manor. This is something that actually happened at the Natural History Museum in London in wartime, with their collection send partially to their Tring outpost and the rest to other country houses.
Once at Lockwood things seem to take a worrying twist. Lockwood is home to recently widowed Major Lord Lockwood, his daughter Lucy and reducing number of servants. Whilst arrangements have been made in advance about the museum using the house, I wouldn’t go as far as saying that Hetty and her animals are welcomed there. More tolerated.
The first night at Lockwood the jaguar from the collection vanishes. Almost into thin air. Poor Hetty is beside herself author she can possibly have managed to lose something as large as a jaguar, but she seems to be the only once concerned about his disappearance. As the nights at Lockwood go on other animals seem to move around of their own accord and Hetty really starts to wonder if she is losing her mind as well as her animals.
It becomes clear that Major Lockwood sees the animals being there as a mix of an inconvenience and something to show off about. The staff certainly see them as an inconvenience though; one which causes them even more work. In fact, the only person who really doesn’t seem to mind is Lucy. But, as Hetty gets to know her better she soon realises that life isn’t entirely as it seems with Lucy around.
Whilst I really liked the book’s war time setting and appreciated all the little timeline historical nods in it, I soon began to tire a bit of what appeared to be setting itself up to be a ghost story. I’m not at all a fan of that sort of genre (as I said when I read Mystery in White) but once again the story swing round and didn’t go down that particular track. But, the route it went did suddenly become quite horrific and disturbing. Not at all what I was expecting and whilst I commend the unexpected twist, it also wasn’t a topic that you necessarily wanted to find yourself reading about.
I find The Animals at Lockwood Manor quite a difficult book to have just one opinion on. I enjoyed the setting, both physically and the time it is set in, and also liked some of the characters – especially Hetty and Lucy. I didn’t appreciate the ghost suggestions, and also didn’t like the twist. Whilst the ending felt right I was left wanting to know a bit more about what everyone’s reactions to it were, and what happened next to Hetty. At points the storyline felt a bit flat and repetitive, and I saw some things coming a mile off, but then the major twist also came to me as a complete shock.
Overall, I think I’m glad I read it, but just not convinced that I’ll recommend it to others. It has made me want to know a bit more about what happened to some of the major London museums in wartime. Having read about how unnerving it can be to walk around in the dark when surrounded by the animals I do also wonder just how freaked out I’m going to be when I go to the National History Museum at Tring next week for an after hours torchlit evening as part of their half term Halloween activities!
The Animals at Lockwood Manor is available to buy online here.
Disclaimer: I picked up my copy of The Animals at Lockwood Manor at a WI book swap. I was under no obligation to write about it. This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click on one of these links and make a purchase it will cost you no more than if you had gone to Amazon under your own steam, but I receive a small commission. Thank you for any purchases that you do make.