By Lucy Atkins
Roaming through Oxford’s secret passages and hidden graveyards, Magpie Lane explores the true meaning of family – and what it is to be denied one.Tweet
Magpie Lane is one of those books that isn't one genre or the other. It is an interesting mashup of mystery, psychological horror and novel. The main character is a very strange woman who is a nanny working in the town of Oxford for the children of academics. Dee seems to have great disdain for these highly respected and busy educators but in addition has a need to help their troubled children, for troubled they must be. In her mind no one knows quite how to handle life correctly but her. There is something in her past life that gives her an affinity for these children who are marginalized by their highly achieving and extremely pressured parents.
Dee is hired by the newly appointed Master of one of the Oxford schools and moves into one of the ancient homes that houses him, his new wife, who is pregnant, and his very troubled young child, Felicity. Felicity is a psychological mute with a myriad of obsessive behaviors who is in the throes of grieving for her mother whose death has damaged her deeply.
The writing style of "Magpie Lane" is very simple almost disturbing at times. I was
confused at times whether Dee was mentally challenged, simplistic or malignant. Were there ghosts or evil spirits haunting the house? Who is the old man from the graveyard?
I'm not sure I liked this book overly much but it was an interesting book.
Dee is a Scottish Nanny, living and working in Oxford. Over the years she has come to the rescue of plenty of Oxford academics who have been struggling with childcare. At the start of the book the couple currently in need of some urgent help are a College Master and his new wife, Nick and Mariah. They live with Felicity, Nick’s daughter from a previous marriage, who was left bereft when her mother died and has some challenging behavioural problems. They also have a baby on the way. Neither have the time or the inclination to spend time with Felicity. And then Felicity goes missing. The narrative is centred around the police interview with Dee, interspersed with flashbacks which fill in the story leading up to the disappearance.
A very enjoyable book, gentle yet compelling. The story is narrated by Dee in the first person and the author has adopted a simplistic writing style which is very effective at conveying natural speech and thought processes. The characterisation is great, drawing on stereotypes and eccentricities in order to create some unique and memorable personalities who contribute hugely to the book overall. Dee, for example, is kind and patient with her wards but can certainly be a rule-breaker when required. It becomes apparent that she has had a somewhat chequered past, which is drip-fed to us throughout the course of the book. The family have just moved into the Master’s Residence and his wife wastes no time in starting several major renovation projects. The house itself provides plenty of atmosphere as a setting for this unfolding mystery. The descriptions of Oxford are also excellent and the town really comes alive on the page.
The two issues I had with the book only came to light once I had finished it and knew the solution. Firstly, the police investigation was so sloppy as to have been unrealistic, especially when the media coverage surrounding the case was so prominent. Also the ending was optimistic in the extreme, to the point of being implausible. Having said that, it was a compelling and gripping read and I really enjoyed it.
Although I had not come across Lucy Atkins before, she has written other novels and I will be looking out for them in the future. If you like a good mystery with quirky characters this is definitely worth a read.
This book is set in Oxford about a Scottish nanny, Dee, who over the years has worked for various families there. She obviously feels she doesn’t belong there and you gather she also has some secrets in her past. Her latest charge is Felicity the 8 year old daughter of a Oxford master. She is selectively mute, having experienced the trauma of losing her mother at 4 years old. Her father and his new wife, are the most neglectful parents that Dee has come across over the years. Felicity goes missing and the book is Dee’s view of what happened in the run up to that, as she is questioned by the police.
Its a bit creepy, and quite absorbing - I read it in two sittings!
Lovely descriptions and style of writing. Wasn't quite sure whether the reference to the house being haunted was going to lead anywhere, but it turned out to be more of an aside. The story meandered a little towards the end, but overall it was an enjoyable read.
A window into the life of an Oxford college master. I loved the setting and descriptive passages but found that the book was overall too long and had to push myself to reach the end. Do read!