Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Ashenden.
From the outrageous dalliances of a faithless wife discovered by her irate husband to the theft of a valuable cup by a desperate servant, from well-appointed rooms inhabited by rowdy siblings to an elderly widow remembering her happiest days at the end of her life, from a billeted soldier recovering from shell shock to insults cast by an arrogant man to Jewish guests before World War II, Wilhide constructs her novel around the faces and history of the grand estate of Ashenden Park in Berkshire, England.
In 2010, brother and sister Charlie and Ros must decide whether to keep or sell their recent inheritance, the great estate greatly reduced by the attrition of time and long-delayed repairs. Yet Ashenden retains the essence of its former glory as originally imagined by architect James Woods for the estate’s first owner, Sir Frederick More. Touched by grandeur and tragedy from its inception, Ashenden mirrors the history of the country through its political and social evolution. Each new owner marks the estate with yet another vision, another drama, another reflection of society. From years of wealth and prosperity to war and depression, the economic fate of the country affecting the rise and fall of Ashenden’s fortunes.
Early owners pass Ashenden through family inheritance, the property falling on harder times eventually, purchased by those with a variety of intentions. Yet Ashenden always retains a presence of its own, one unique to the building, witness to the human dramas that play out in its surfeit of rooms over many years. Centuries of accumulated memories haunt shadowed corners like the secrets of former inhabitants. Here hearts have been won and broken, dreams fulfilled and shattered, loved ones born and lost. Each leaves a fingerprint, albeit buried under the detritus of too many expectations trampled by reality.
Each chapter reveals another era, another owner, those who walk the halls of Ashenden whether resident or employee, sleep in its rooms or tidy after the celebrations of the fortunate, the nearby village filled with the families attached to Ashenden in one way or another. The author reconstructs the character of the estate through the particulars of each period of ownership, the human dramas acted out, replaced by others, a fine stitched quilt of history and events absorbed by the stone first carted from the river by the architect and builder, repository of generations of experiences. While people fade with time, Ashenden remains a vital presence in the countryside awaiting its fate: “It knows what it wants. What it wants is a beating heart.”