The Blank Wall – Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

I don’t know about all of you but when I am reading a book it’s like a film version appears in my brain somewhere whilst the words are in front of me. Well, that is what happens to me and I can’t really put it any better than that, though I am sure we all see the images differently. Reading ‘The Blank Wall’ by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding is the first time I can ever say that a book has played in my head rather like a black and white matinee movie you watch to relax with and be entertained by on a Sunday afternoon. It was a truly delightful experience, even though it is a suspense novel.

****, Persephone Books, 1947 (republished in 2003), paperback, fiction, 232 pages, borrowed from the library

‘The Blank Wall’ is set during World War II not long after the Holley family have moved into a new lakeside home. Well, not all of them have moved for Lucia’s husband Tom is out at war and so when their daughter Bee starts seeing a rather disreputable looking older man Ted Darby, Lucia is left in the difficult position of having to deal with it. However fate intervenes as the next day, and this isn’t a spoiler as it happens early on in the book, Lucia finds Ted dead in their boat house. Deciding it must have been her father, who also lives with the family, she hides the body on a nearby marshy island and things start to go from bad to worse.

The first thing that I loved about ‘The Blank Wall’ was the speed in which Sanxay Holding sets up the story, within a few chapters you have a murder  and also a huge amount of back story that could give several people several motives for doing it. This could lead to your run of the mill, though always exciting as they are, whodunit murder mysteries instead this becomes the start of a really suspense filled tale of how Lucia copes as the situation spirals and tries to save her family in her own rather bumbling yet highly strung and reactionary way. But is she protecting her family or could she be making everything worse?

‘She got a book and read it in bed, with stubborn determination. It was a mystery story she had got out of the lending library for her father, and she was not fond of mystery stories. Nobody in them ever seemed to feel sorry about murders, she had said. They’re presented as a problem m’dear, her father said. What’s more, they generally show the murdered person as someone you can’t waste any pity on. I’m sorry for them, she said, I hate it when they’re found with daggers sticking in them and their eyes all staring from poison and things like that.’

The second thing I loved about the book was Lucia herself and the fact that the novel is narrated through her internal dialogue as well as the external she has with the other characters. This gives us a real insight into just how difficult it is to go from, and remain, the idyllic housewife and mother whilst trying to cover up a murder and possible scandal. As Lucia unravels herself there is the entertaining elements of whether she should wash up, make the beds and clean the baths or go and meet with a blackmailer (this had me in hysterics) yet also an unexpected emotional sting thrown in as the cracks in the relationships with her family (her children are vile, so of course rather readable) members that she hasn’t been aware of before.

‘If Bee comes back and finds the dishes in the sink… Even unsuspicious Father would think that was queer… What reason can I give for running out of the house?
“Oh I don’t know!” she cried aloud in angry desperation. “It’s nobody’s business.”
She decided to finish washing the dishes, and leave them draining. Then I’ll tell them, if they ask me, that I felt like being alone. I’ll say I wanted to think. Why shouldn’t I? Other people do.’

Whilst it does have a domestic setting, ‘The Blank Wall’ is a great thrilling novel that slowly but surely notches the suspense up as you read. You can never be too sure what people’s motives really are and you never know if Lucia is making things even worse than they already are. I picked it up and could barely be parted from it. A truly entertaining, and also rather endearing, suspense novel from an author who deserves to be much more widely read. I will definitely have to root out some more Sanxay Holding novels in the future.


Filed under Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, Persephone Books, Review

10 responses to “The Blank Wall – Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

  1. I loved this book too. It does play in the mind like a black and white film. I certainly coudn’t put it down. I just finished reading a Persephone book too – in the early hours of this morning. They never seem to let me down.

  2. I too loved this book to bits. There has been a film made of it, or loosely based on it, with Tilda Swinton but I can’t remember what it’s called. I watched a bit of it and didn’t like it at all. You are right it is like a black and white movie (and not a modern sexed up colour one).

    • I could imagine Joan Crawford playing Lucia for some reason, I know she plays gutsy a lot but I could see her playing Lucia. I can’t say I feel like that about Tilda Swinton. I would be amazed if this wasn’t a film back when it came out but then again I haven’t looked so who knows!?!

  3. janakay

    I had just finished reading this novel a couple of months ago, so your review was quite a treat. I enjoyed the novel, although perhaps not quite as much as you did–those children of Lucia’s were just sooooo repulsive! I also had to struggle a bit mentally to avoid having the outmoded social mores from getting in the way of the story (a smart, capable woman like Lucia is being “protected”–and ordered about–by her teenaged son; Lucia’s expected to account to her family for every move, that type of thing) although I admit that the combination of domesticity with murder/blackmail was quite funny at times. The movie referred to by a previous poster, by the way, was 2001’s “The Deep End” starring Tilda Swinton. I saw it before I read the novel and enjoyed it a great deal, mostly because Swinton was so great. “Reckless Moment” was an earlier movie based on the same novel; I haven’t seen it but understand it was perhaps more faithful to the book.

    • I really want to see the one with Tilda Swinton in, I am going to have to get my hands on a copy. I have discovered that you can watch Reckless Moment on youtube, the whole thing… maybe I shouldn’t be advocating or promoting that though?

      I loved the book, I will have to get more of the authors work, not sure how available it is though.

  4. I really like the sound of this book – going to add it to my wishlist (suprisingly, first entry of the month!) I love Persephone, books.

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