Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Joint review: The Silk House by Katye Nunn

Bree from All the Books I Can Read and I have been discussing books and life for a very long time now! Every now and again we happen to read the same book at a similar time and so we take the opportunity to do a discussion post.

My thoughts are in purple and Bree's are in black

M: Katye Nunn is an author I haven’t read before. I meant to because I am sure I would like her books. She writes dual history time lines which is something that we both like a lot, with a touch of darkness. Have you read this author before, and if so, how did this compare to her previous books?

B: I have read 2 of her books before - The Botanist’s Daughter and The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durant, both of which I absolutely love and recommend highly (I’m pretty sure you’d like them both!). So I was very excited to read this, Kayte Nunn has definitely become a must read author for me. And I did really enjoy this, probably almost as much as I did her two others, which were both strong 5-star reads for me.
For me, dual time-lines sometimes result in favouring one over the other, and wanting the story to skip back to that particular timeline. Did you find that here?

M: I have a natural tendency to lean towards the past in any dual time line, and that was definitely the case here. In effect there are two stories in the past in this book. Initially they are separate storylines until they converge together. The first storyline feature a young woman by the name of Rowan Caswell who has moved from her village to come to the home of the silk merchant, Patrick Hollander. She is to be the maid in the house, but it isn’t too long before her talent for healing draws the attention of others living in the house. But this isn’t a time in history that you want to be known for this kind of talent. How did you feel about Rowan’s introduction into the story?

B: I found Rowan’s introduction to the story intriguing. She was a capable, brave young woman, who was somewhat forced into her circumstances due to several factors. Her successful gaining of a position seems relatively beneficial for someone in her place at first - she’s safe, warm, fed and although she works hard, she’s taken care of within the household. However it doesn’t take long to notice that the mood of the house has ebbs and flows and things are not always what they seem, which eventually ties in with the second of the historical narratives. I also really enjoyed the element of healing that was incorporated into the story and the ways in which this was regarded suspiciously at times in the past {mostly by men}.

How did you find the dynamics in the ‘Silk House’ during the time of Rowan’s employment?

M: It was definitely an interesting house. One thing that we haven’t mentioned about Rowan has a distinctive appearance (white blonde hair and a scar on her face which in that time and place already marked her out as different) so from the first moment she entered the house she was distrusted, especially by the other servant girl in the house, Alice. Thank goodness, the cook took a liking to Rowan and because otherwise I can’t imagine that it would have been a very pleasant place to live and work.

The master of the house, Patrick Hollander, was something of a wheeler dealer, someone for whom appearances mattered much more than insignificant things like ethics or morals whether it be in his business or his private life. More than happy to do things get the town’s first piano delivered, maybe not so happy to actually pay for it. His wife, Caroline, was long suffering, believing that the one thing that could keep her husband’s affection was a baby, something she has struggled with for many years.
As you can tell, I didn’t find much in the way of redeeming qualities in Patrick, which brings us to the other part of the historical story. In the course of his business travels, Patrick hears about a young woman, Mary Louise Stephenson, who is trying to break into the very male dominated world of designing the patterns that are then woven into silks which in turn are made into the beautiful clothes for the well to do.

I found the details regarding the designs and the weaving of the silk fascinating. Was there anything that surprised you in this part of the story.

B: Patrick was certainly a representation of a man who had ideas of grandeur but little to no idea, he had big schemes but seemed to lack the work ethic and business know how to make these things come together. He certainly had opportunity - but wasn’t able to capitalise on this and the household reflected their uncertain incomes. Regarding Mary Louise Stephenson, I have to admit at first, I wasn’t quite sure where that portion of the story was going. She and her sister are in quite an impoverished state and at first Patrick seems like the answer to so many of their prayers. Mary Louise’s designs seem stunning with very unique ideas - and also a bit intriguing, with the reaction that various people have with them. This is a very superstitious and suspicious time of history, with women being accused of being witches and the like, which is actually a danger that Rowan, with her knowledge of healing, has to be very careful about. But as for surprising me…...well, when these two stories in the past finally met up, I think everything after that felt like it was quite unexpected!

Back to the present….what did you think of the prestigious school, admitting female students for the first time in its illustrious multi-century (or however long it was) history?


Head over to Bree's blog to see the answer to this question and the rest of our discussion.


  1. What a great idea, love this joint review and discussion.

    1. Thanks Tracey, it's always fun to do these discussion style posts!

  2. Sounds like a fabulous book.

  3. Isn't that a great cover too? Sounds like a wonderful book and really enjoyed reading your joint review!

    1. It is a good cover! Thanks for commmenting Iliana!

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.