The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

This Victorian work of mystery and suspense was greatly enjoyed by our local group of readers. The story opens with Walter Hartright’s eerie encounter on a moonlit London road. He has been engaged as a drawing master to the beautiful Laura Fairlie and finds himself drawn into the sinister intrigues of Sir Percival Glyde and his ‘charming’ friend Count Fosco. The plot is crammed with intrigue and full of memorable characters. Suspense is used as a basic element and the story twists and turns with dastardly deeds and shameful secrets, love and dishonour – a genuine thriller.

The American Lover and other stories by Rose Tremain

The heroine of the title story can’t free herself from the overpowering influence of her American lover, even after he casually abandons her, and leaves her to cope with an abortion on her own. Similarly, the main character in the subsequent story, Captive, finds himself an exile in his own kingdom, alone in a bungalow on the farm where he grew up. While another shorter piece, about an elderly widower who struggles to keep a neglected piece of lane clear of litter, has a similar sadness and The Jester of Astapovo dramatises the chaos of Leo Tolstoy’s final hours, when he took flight from his wife, the formidable Countess Sophie, and ended up at a train station in a remote corner of Russia.

Walter and Lena Parker find it all too much when their grown-up daughter returns to their Nashville home with rowdy musicians and dodgy lovers in tow. They move permanently into their lakeside holiday cabin to find some peace, and try to kid themselves that they are happy there. In The Housekeeper, a young woman is horrified to discover, after a brief sexual encounter with Daphne du Maurier, that she is the model for Mrs Danvers in Rebecca. We feel for the betrayal of Danni, as we feel for all of the characters in this powerful collection.

Rose Tremain has always been drawn to outsiders in her fiction. Her characters in this wide-ranging selection of short stories are often loners whose isolation is emotional rather than physical; trapped by memory, desire, or loyalty in situations they can no longer control.

Pat Mutton