My enormous thanks to Kevin at Bluemoose Books for sending me a copy of The Moss House by Clara Barley in return for an honest review.
Reading The Moss House is that bit more special for me because Clara Barley just happens to be an ex-student of mine and I taught her A’Level English many moons ago, so it was with some trepidation that I began reading The Moss House. What if I didn’t like it? You’ll find out what I thought in my review below! If you haven’t yet watched Gentleman Jack on television, see if you can spot Clara Barley in a cameo role too!
Published by Bluemoose Books, The Moss House is available in all the usual places, including directly from the publisher here.
The Moss House
Two hundred years ago, neighbouring Yorkshire landowners Miss Lister and Miss Walker find their lives become entwined in a passionate, forbidden relationship and retreat to the Moss House, their private sanctuary away from an unaccepting world.
Their tranquillity does not last long as they are drawn into the turmoil of a changing society and a divided family, testing their love for each other, eventually driving them from their home.
The world was not yet ready for the likes of Miss Lister.
Landowner, scholar, traveller, mountaineer and non-conformist but in The Moss House we discover her lifelong battle to be her true self as she finds Ann Walker and together they try to live life on their own terms.
My Review of The Moss House
A lesbian woman in a man’s world, Anne Lister is Gentleman Jack.
Having so enjoyed the television series Gentleman Jack I was nervous about reading The Moss House because I wasn’t sure if it would have anything to add. My goodness it does. I loved this account of Anne Lister’s life and her relationship with Ann Walker and I actually found it hugely affecting, reducing me to tears at the end. Certainly some of the key events will be familiar to those who have watched the television series, as this is, after all, a book about real people, but Clara Barley has imbued them with a fresh vibrancy that is enormously engaging.
Clara Barley writes with such clarity, with two distinct voices as the narrative swaps between Anne Lister and Ann Walker so that I felt as if they were both speaking to me directly. There’s an almost confessional tone that ensnares the reader, making them desperate to know more.
Clara Barley is unafraid to tackle the more intimate physical aspects of the relationship between the two women, but never being gratuitous so that the reader understands the intimacy of Anne Lister’s life and sexual passions. There’s considerable emotion behind every action resulting in two warm, vivid characters that I cared about.
The quality of research that has gone into creating an historically accurate picture of a woman’s place in society leaps from the page. Despite the fact that we are now almost two hundred years ahead in time, the themes of The Moss House feel sadly all too relevant. The role of women, sexuality, inequality, corrupt business, travel, love, family and relationships are all just as important considerations now. One of the most affecting aspects for me was Miss Lister’s constraints simply because of her gender. I felt as enraged as Anne does when she is unable to play an active role simply because she is a woman. But it was Anne Lister’s restlessness, her desperate need to be loved with equal passion and her craving desire to be true to herself and her real identity that I found the most moving.
The Moss House is a wonderful book. Clara Barley transports the reader historically whilst entertaining them emotionally. I felt a profound sadness when I finished reading The Moss House and I’ll be thinking about it for a very long time. It’s a wonderful read.
About Clara Barley
Clara Barley has written fiction and non-fiction for publication, online, theatre and museums and is an avid researcher and enthusiast for sharing’s women’s stories from history. She works at Anne’s home of Shibden Hall in Halifax, West Yorkshire also appears in Gentleman Jack as Mrs Watson, Mariana’s lady’s maid.
You can find out more by following Clara on Twitter @EndeavourFilms.