Let me just start by stating emphatically that The House of Brides by Jane Cockram is one of the most poorly-written books I’ve ever read. I’m going to include spoilers, something I never do, because explaining why The House of Brides is so bad would be impossible without getting into some surprises (which aren’t really surprises, but non-sense from left field). If you truly want to read Cockram’s novel, skip this review.
We begin in Australia, where Miranda, who was once a popular influencer is now a big bag of shame. Despite having no children, she creates the app “Mommy Miranda,” which gives nutrition advice meant to solve everything from acne to infertility. Cockram alludes to a court case, something-something negative happened to one app subscriber, and the app is dangerous. The trolls come for Miranda. Now, she’s living with her half-sisters, step-mother, and incredibly kind father who works hard to get Miranda a good job. Does she accept?
Miranda comes home late from her got-a-new-job party and parks her dad’s nice car under a tree known for dripping sap, managing to thrust the bumper up on the curb, then finds a letter addressed to her mother. But her mom’s been dead since Miranda was a girl, and Miranda is in her twenties! Inside is a plea from a twelve-year-old girl in England named Sophia, asking Miranda’s mother to help them. Something is afoot at Barnsley House. Miranda’s mother grew up in Barnsley House and fled England for Australia for reasons unknown. Suffice it to say, the family from which she fled hates Miranda’s mom. Miranda has never met this side of the family, but what if her tween cousin really needs help? Her dad catches her with the letter and warns her some families aren’t meant to be mended, and don’t go traipsing across the globe trying to help people you don’t even know. Foregoing her lined-up job, Miranda steals her dad’s credit card and flies to England to solve! this! mystery!
When she arrives in England with no plan, Miranda catches a cab to Barnsley House, knocks on the door, and is asked, “Are you here for the nanny job?” She says yes. The children are Sophia (12, who wrote the letter), Robbie (10), and Agatha (8). She doesn’t tell the owner of the house, Max, that she is his niece, that the children are her first cousins.
Ugh, where to begin? Firstly, Miranda seems to think her father will have nooooo idea where she went. Didn’t she just tell her dad where she wanted to go? Didn’t she just run up his credit card for a plane ticket? Secondly, how convenient is it that a prospective nanny would show up in the middle of the night? The family invites Miranda in and asks her first name – that’s it. No resume, no interview questions, no meeting the children first. I half expected them to be mutants like the X-men, but no, the children are fine.
Except for Agatha who is in a wheelchair, and much is made of this. Miranda has to figure out the mystery (???) of why a child might be in a wheelchair. Ew, gross. Later at a school Christmas play, Miranda notes that Agatha “defiantly” decorated her wheelchair with tinsel. Defiantly? Don’t most of us accessorize ourselves?
These children have parents; their father runs the estate, but his wife Daphne is like a ghost that haunts the place. Daphne, a celebrated Australian chef, turned Barnsley House from “meh” into a destination. That is, until she headed to church one morning after a night of bingeing, took little Agatha with her, and a deer jumped out, causing a major accident. And then one night, just after meeting Miranda and being totally weird and ghostly, Daphne disappears.
There are so many false starts in The House of Brides, and this is where I’m getting into spoilers. The letter Sophia sent asking for help? Never brought up again. Not a plot point beyond the catalyst that sends Miranda to England. Daphne missing? Meh, that’s a thing we don’t care about (and her body randomly turns up dead in the end, which is more true-to-life than what Biscuit and I were imagining, like she’s hiding in the house, she returned to Australia, she’s living on a the tiny island by Barnsley House.
Oh, and everyone knew who Miranda was all along because apparently she looks exactly like her mother, the wench who fled twenty-odd years ago after stealing her sister’s book and claiming she wrote it. So, why did Max let Miranda play around at Barnsley House pretending to be the nanny? *shrug* I suppose it gives everyone the chance to comment upon how well Miranda knows the children, so much that only she knows them well enough to buy their Christmas presents. Miranda has only been there a week. She starts to believe she knows the children, noting “Sophia’s pride” and that Sophia “was closer to being a woman than a child.” Ewwwww, she’s twelve! The kids are at school all freaking day. Miranda doesn’t interact with them except to make dinner — and Miranda can’t cook.
Woven throughout the present timeline are moments when Miranda sits down to read a journal Daphne had hidden away in a locked drawer (there’s a dramatic moment when Daphne gives Miranda the key should Miranda disappear). The journal is awful. It’s about Max’s parents and their extramarital affairs, as told to Max later by his babysitter, and then Max told Daphne when they were dating. Who writes a he-said, she-said journal? Is it for posterity? Daphne even quotes these long dead people and expresses what they were feeling, which is just bad writing and a lack of imagination on Cockram’s part. There are better ways to convey old information in a book. Perhaps a flashback, hmm? Miranda seems to think she needs to keep this journal safe, but in the end we learn everyone already knows what’s in it, so all the harrowing, “Oh, no! The journal!” stuff is moot.
Lastly, Cockram’s hubris: the novel makes make allusions to Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, which is not in the public domain until 2034, keeping The House of Brides just close enough that those who love du Maurier’s novel can see the references, but different enough that you have to ask, what was the point other than to set herself up for impossible comparisons that would leave readers disappointed? This book is a huge no from me. Poorly written, nonsensical, and flubbing basic storytelling elements.