The Company by JM Varese – Review
By Sandra Callard
Set in London in 1870, The Company purports to be based on a true story from that time. It has a strange, albeit light, Gothic theme without firmly settling in that sub genre.
“The Company” refers to the huge and very successful firm of Braithwaite & Co who make beautiful wallpapers, and the story begins as the popular manager of the company suddenly dies. The Braithwaite family, having lost the father and a brother some years previously, now consists of the mother and her daughter and son, who are all unaware of the intricate runnings of the Company. Without the guidance of their faithful manager, they are unsure of their options, but an attractive and healthy young man, Julian Rivers, is apparently running the company without the knowledge of the family and the records show that the company is thriving under his management. He is accepted by the family who like and appreciate his work and the company is left in his hands, as all is well with the firm.
The character and appearance of the small family are well-drawn, and it is quite easy to see the small but rich family as they move around their home, at peace with their wealth. However, the daughter of the house, the 24-year-old Lucy, becomes suspicious of the new manager, and it soon becomes clear that he is aiming to marry Lucy and take over the business for himself. But Lucy is an intelligent young woman and tries to keep a watch on Rivers, who calls in at the house continually, She persuades the boy who runs messages for Rivers to turn informer for her. She feeds him as he is starving but this seems to lead nowhere. Strangely enough Lucy then asks Rivers why he has a boy following her, which left me wondering why she had done this. I still have no answer.
The house itself is beautifully decorated but talk is beginning to circulate about people dying at the factory and elsewhere. The second brother of the family, John, becomes ill, and Lucy begins to plan to save her family, haphazard though her plan is. Rivers is apparently normal, though he is presented as a possible mystery man with unspeakable powers. The book contains multiple instances of strange things happening to the family but only Lucy seems to care.
Despite this lengthy plot preamble, there is, disappointingly, little mystery here, and the finale is fairly predictable.
Gothic stories can fall between two stools – enigmatic mystery or creepy thriller – and The Company is somewhere in those areas without ever gripping hold of either. The narrative has plenty of potential but neglects to gear shift on numerous occasions and ultimately leaves the reader a little flat and baffled.
A thriller it is not, and neither is it a mystery, and there are plenty of run-of-the mill books which dignify themselves with the name Gothic, but are not. The Company is not without intrigue, but hope of a riveting read fizzles out somewhere in the midst of its labyrinthine plot.
‘The Company’ by JM Varese is published by Hachette