Clara Reeve by Leoni Hargreave was given to me by my brother-in-law who is a literary fanatic, with a book collection that could probably put the British Library to shame. His main area of interest however is science fiction, so I was very surprised when he gave me this book, of which he mistakenly had two copies. So, how does a sci-fi enthusiast end up with not one but two copies of a Victorian pastiche novel? Well, Leonie Hargreave is a pen-name, which the author Thomas M Disch was advised to use when publishing this novel which was so different to his usual output of science fiction work.
As a fan of all things Victorian, I was absolutely delighted and couldn't wait to get reading. With the background knowledge of the book being written by a) a man and b) a sci-fi author I was very much prepared for the worst. Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised. Hargreave/Disch really managed to evoke the sensation novels of the Victorian era and all the trademarks are there - the mysterious continental man-servant, the mentally unstable wife, the question of inheritance and a dark secret bubbling under the surface. The period detail is well created and it really felt quite authentic, perhaps even so far as it being quite a verbose and hard-going book at times. The main character of Clara is endearing and sympathetic - all her troubles are visited upon her for no apparent reason other than an accident of her birth; very much a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What I did find frustrating was that the denouement was so late in the book and consequently, I felt, a bit rushed.