In Anne Britting Oleson’s new novel, “Dovecote,” Gwynn Forest comes to the English cottage that was willed to her, hoping to find a fresh start that will free her from what she’s left behind in America. But almost from the moment she arrives, she begins to suspect that her new start comes burdened with its own ghosts.

Her great aunt, whom she never met – also named Gwynn – was widowed young. She is remembered by villagers as mean and embittered. In the cottage, locked doors open and close, footsteps are heard on the stairs. A rusted door in a stone wall in the backyard is unyielding, though Gwynn can hear doves on the other side, as though they are calling to her. She soon learns that a cousin, Paul Stokes, who runs the pub down the lane, feels cheated that the cottage wasn’t willed to him.

Such is the setup of Oleson’s second novel. Oleson teases out the parallels in the lives of the two Gwynns, each of their stories suspended between twin pivots in their lives – being unhappily married and having their husbands hang themselves at home.

Mary Tennant, who was Gwynneth Chelton’s housekeeper, and Colin Moore, who delivers firewood and is a handyman, become Gwynn Forest’s mainstays as she seeks to “fit in.” In time, Moore becomes more than that.

Mary Tennant is circumspect when Gwynn asks her if there was a dovecote nearby. Finally, she admits that her benefactor’s husband had once kept doves. “Out back, beyond the wall.” Beyond the brambles that now choke the path to the gate in the wall.

Gwynn asks Colin to help her open the gate. “Why do you want to do this?” he asks. She tells him she wants to see what is there. “Some doors aren’t meant to be opened,” he replies. Beyond they find the dovecote. When Gwynn starts to enter, Colin tells her, “Don’t go in there.”


“Dovecote” turns increasingly darker after Gwynn ventures up to the dovecote alone at night with a flashlight. She trips and falls and glimpses a pair of feet swinging in the air. She subsequently learns that her great-aunt’s husband hnaged himself in the dovecote. Life turns more menacing after Paul Stokes sets out to contest the will that gave Gwynn the cottage. And it grows more complex after she and Colin becomes lovers.

Beneath it all lies the story of why the young Gwynneth married Tommy Chelton all those years ago rather than wait for her true love to return from war.

“Dovecote” is a well-turned tale. Love and loss and the threat they bring to ever knowing happiness again is the central theme that Oleson explores in “Dovecote,” as she did in her first novel, “The Book of the Mandolin Player.” Both books are carried by well-drawn characters, solid writing and suspense.

Oleson makes her home with her family in the mountains of Maine.

Frank O Smith is a Maine writer whose novel, “Dream Singer,” was a finalist for the Bellwether Prize, created by best-selling novelist Barbara Kingsolver. Smith can be reached via his website:

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