I enjoy reading historical fiction and, of course, lesbian fiction, so the opportunity to read Rebecca S. Buck’s Ghosts of Winter, which features both, was too good to pass up. Protagonist Ros Wynne has come to a crossroads in her life after losing her mother to cancer, leaving her job, and breaking up with her long-term girlfriend. When a kindly woman from her past passes away, she quite unexpectedly leaves Ros with an 18th century manor house in Northern England and the money with which to restore it to its former glory. Ros takes the challenge as a step toward a new beginning, but arrives at Winter Manor with no idea of who she is now, or what she wants from her life. Enter Anna Everest, the beautiful architect who seems to be as put-together as Ros is falling apart. Sparks fly between them, but Ros can’t be sure of her heart, and Anna has a wedding band on her finger . . .
Against the development of Ros and Anna’s relationship, Buck juxtaposes three stories from Winter’s past–18th century, 19th century, and 20th century–of same-sex love which does not truly have the opportunity to blossom. [Minor spoiler alert] The lord who remakes Winter Manor engages in an illicit relationship with another nobleman; a young lady’s passion for a free-thinking friend turns to ash when her love returns as her brother’s fiancee; and the flapper who prefers her female lover as a beautiful memory bears a child who will one day inherit the property and hand it down to Ros. I enjoyed the way these stories lent a weight and history to the setting of the main plot; as more of the house was repaired, their stories came to light. I almost expected some sort of diary or historical record that would connect the stories more tangibly, but the connection is made for the benefit of the reader, rather than Ros and Anna.
Overall, I enjoyed the book. The “thinking about her past mistakes and being unsure” parts of Ros’s character development were often privileged over action or dialogue in a way that sometimes made it slow going. I prefer large blocks of text to be broken up a little bit more, but I appreciated the effort at showing her growth over time. The attraction between the main characters was believable, and I especially enjoyed the glimpses into the past and the tiny traces of their stories that cropped up in the present. So much of gay and lesbian history is unwritten that it was a fun exercise to put a tangible “what if” to the diverse kinds of relationships thatmight have happened but never got recorded.
And finally, who wouldn’t want to inherit a manor house and the money to fix it? I kept expecting Ros to run out of money after the first few weeks of work. In my experience, these things do not usually go together (even if one is fortunate to inherit the house). Well, I guess it might not be for everyone, but the urge to renovate is strong in my family, and this book definitely played to it. Readers who enjoy the historic threads of Ghosts of Winter might also take a look at Lyn Denison’s Past Remembering, in which queer relationships in the past are uncovered in present-day Australia.