by Ann Smythe
In The Aviculturist, we meet Lily Sanders, not only coming to terms with her Mother’s recent death, but also still trying to process the horrendous events of her childhood which killed her Father, Vincent, and Sister, Alice. When her inheritance under the terms of her Mother’s Will mean she needs to travel back to Cornwall and confront the past, little does she realise who and what she will find….
The Aviculturist is an ambitious novel that has been written with consideration and depth. It flickers between psychological horror, thriller and romance with a distinct whiff of the supernatural. From the beginning, the reader is drawn in with intrigue, atmosphere and curiosity – you really are not sure where events are heading but all narrative strands are tightly constructed, never far-fetched and written with confidence and accomplishment.
There are a lot of tangents and sub-strands and Lily carries these well. She is both likeable and believable yet never over-engineered. The plot is well-structured but I was in two minds whether the side narrative with Marcus belonged in this book. However, the quality of pacing and writing means it works, although does take the story in a different direction albeit connected.
Nonetheless, as the novel gathers pace, it’s absolutely gripping, helped by a couple of serious twists which sweep the reader up and along. An awful lot has been packed into the book and the different avenues of plot unfold like petals as you make your way through.
Sense of place is very strong; atmospheric to the point of being almost Gothic, and the settings whether that is The Black Dog Inn or Penwyth House are utilised to both complement and carry the story, building apprehension and tension where required. The descriptive imagery used to convey Joe’s glasshouses is beautifully done and indeed, Joe himself, is wonderfully realised with a seam of decency and poignancy running through him.
The character that pervades the entire book is the one that never physically appears: Lily’s Mother. Ms Smythe conjures her clearly in the reader’s eye. At times during The Aviculturist, I was strongly reminded of the novels of Daphne Du Maurier; and not just because of this parallel with Rebecca but that slightly disquieting feeling that unknown elements are lurking just beneath the surface which infused a lot of Du Maurier’s writing. The layered, finely detailed prose is also quite redolent of Du Maurier and obviously the Cornish setting helps!
The Aviculturist is an incredibly well-written, compelling and solid debut novel. Highly recommended.