The House of Whispers by Anna Mazzola

Today I am absolutely delighted to share my thoughts on The House of Whispers by Anna Mazzola, and to wish the author a very happy publication day. I don’t tend to read a lot of historical fiction, but with the lovely gothic edge to Anna’s writing, I absolutely couldn’t resist this book for long. My thanks to publisher Orion for the advance copy. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Advance Reader Copy
Release Date: 06 April 2023
Publisher: Orion

About the Book

Sometimes the secrets of the past are more dangerous than the present…

Rome, 1938.

As the world teeters on the brink of war, talented pianist Eva Valenti enters the house of widower Dante Cavallera to become his new wife.

On the outside, the forces of Fascism are accelerating, but in her new home, Eva fears that something else is at work, whispering in the walls and leaving mysterious marks on Dante’s young daughter.

Soon she starts to wonder whether the house itself is trying to give up the secrets of its mysterious past – secrets that Dante seems so determined to keep hidden.

However, Eva must also conceal the truth of her own identity, for if she is discovered, she will be in greater danger than she could ever have imagined…

My Thoughts

What a book. The perfect blend of mystery and chilling suspense, with beautifully gothic undertones, all set against the backdrop of pre-war Italy, it captured my imagination from the start and did not let go.

With The House of Whispers Anna Mazzola leads readers through Mussolini’s Italy, and the rise of fascism, shining a spotlight on Eva Valenti and her soon to be new family, the Cavalleras. Behind the grand facade of the house are hidden secrets and unexplained and chilling phenomena which defy logic. Eva senses the melancholy in the home from the moment she arrives, but, falling for the charms of widower, Dante Cavallera, soon becomes his wife and step-mother to his two children, Chiara and Alessandro. The more Eva learns about the house and her new family, the darker and narrower her world becomes. It is more than just the memory of Dante’s first wife, Adelina, that lingers in every facet of her home, and the more Eva strives to understand what is happening around her, the greater the threat against her seems to be. But is what Eva experiences real or the product of an increasingly fragile mind?

I really liked the way that Anna Mazzola developed the character of Eva. Eva is a piano teacher who, whilst not Jewish, has her own reasons to fear the growth of fascism and the ever growing ties between Italy and Hitler’s Germany. She has, at times, a somewhat naive and overly optimistic view of Italy, denying what is obvious to her friends and hoping that, against all odds, that the country she loves will not descend into the levels of racism and persecution that is happening in Germany. She is somewhat innocent, and impressionable, influenced by a Father who would rather sacrifice his own heritage to ‘fit in’ and this comes to typify her need for acceptance and taking the easy options when it comes to conflict. But she is a very sympathetic character, one who cares greatly for her friends and for her young student, Dante’s daughter, Chiara. She can recognise in Chiara some elements of her own character, and is moved by the sadness that lies within her, clearly as a result of her mother’s death. Whilst she comes across as weak character sometimes, her belief in right and wrong, and her strength of character in the face of adversity feel authentic.

With the book told in Eva’s voice, Anna Mazzola really drew me into her story, making me completed invested in her face. I felt frustration when she failed to see what was blindingly obvious to those around her – and to be fair I did have the benefit of hindsight – and anger as she faced all manner of abuse and manipulation by people around her. As for Chiara, she was a truly tragic character, but one who I felt an empathy towards from the very start. She was more than just a young girl who had lost her mother, and I always had the sense that there was more to her story, a secret that the author kept hidden until just the right moment.

One of the real attractions of this book, though, is the beautiful language. From the very start you get that there is more to the story than the eye can see. As Eva steps foot into the Cavallera home for the first time, there is a sense not only of the grandeur of the place, but also that prickly sensation the comes from a house that is unsettled. The more time Eva spends there, the she sees and hears things that cannot be explained, and the more the hairs on the arms start to stand on edge. It is a story that is almost gothic in telling, but with a truth that is grounded more in reality than I initially realised. Woven into this is the tragedy of what is happening to Italy, and to Eva’s friends. The author has incorporated that into the story in a way which informs, but doesn’t overwhelm. It is not a part of history that I know much about, but I certainly feel more aware now. The growth of hate and prejudice across the nation, are echoed in the fear that grows within the house, both of an earthly and otherworldly nature.

I know I’ve not done this book justice in my review, but I find it hard to explain without giving too much away about the story. What I can say is that it is a beautifully written, atmospheric and sometimes unsettling story, one that kept me completely invested and engaged to the very last page. Definitely recommended.

About the Author

Anna is a writer of historical and Gothic fiction. Her novels explore the impact of crime and injustice and her influences include Sarah Waters, Daphne du Maurier and Shirley Jackson.

Her third novel, The Clockwork Girl, set in Paris in 1750, is a Sunday Times Historical Fiction pick for 2022. Her debut novel, The Unseeing, won an Edgar Allan Poe award. Her fourth novel, The House of Whispers, is a ghost story set in Fascist Italy and will be published in April 2023.

Anna also writes legal thrillers under the name Anna Sharpe, the first of which will be published in 2024.

When not writing or tutoring, Anna is a human rights and criminal justice solicitor, working with victims of crime. She lives in South London with her husband, their two children, a snake and a cat.

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