Review: House of Silence by Sarah Barthel

House of Silence Book Cover House of Silence
Sarah Barthel
December 27, 2016
Goodreads First Read
August 6 - October 6, 2023

For fans of HBO’s The Gilded Age, explore the dazzling world of America’s 19th century elite in this lush, page-turning saga…

Oak Park, Illinois, 1875. Isabelle Larkin's future--like that of every young woman--hinges upon her choice of husband. She delights her mother by becoming engaged to Gregory Gallagher, who is charismatic, politically ambitious, and publicly devoted. But Isabelle's visions of a happy, profitable match come to a halt when she witnesses her fiancé commit a horrific crime--and no one believes her.

Gregory denies all, and Isabelle's mother insists she marry as planned rather than drag them into scandal. Fearing for her life, Isabelle can think of only one escape: she feigns a mental breakdown that renders her mute, and is brought to Bellevue sanitarium. There she finds a friend in fellow patient Mary Todd Lincoln, committed after her husband's assassination. 

In this unlikely refuge, the women become allies, even as Isabelle maintains a veneer of madness for her own protection. But sooner or later, she must reclaim her voice. And if she uses it to expose the truth, Isabelle risks far more than she could ever imagine.

Weaving together a thread of finely tuned suspense with a fascinating setting and real-life figures, Sarah Barthel's debut is historical fiction at its most evocative and compelling.

House of Silence


2.5 Stars

After witnessing her fiancé, Gregory, murder a woman, and having nobody believe her, Isabelle Larkin stops speaking. This is a conscious decision, because why speak if nobody believes you? And when she refuses to speak for a period of time, her mother and her doctor feel there is no other choice than to send her off to Bellevue sanitarium. Isabelle is glad to get away, it means she won’t see Gregory; however, if anyone were to find out, Isabelle’s reputation would be ruined. 

While at Bellevue, Isabelle acquaints herself with the other patients who have various issues, and befriends the staff. And then the former first lady of the USA, Mary Todd Lincoln takes up residence. It is Mrs. Lincoln to whom Isabelle confides.

This book was well written, and the characters fleshed out, however I don’t feel like there was enough substance in the middle of the book. After Isabella witnessed the murder, the book seemed to drag as she did her day to day tasks at Bellevue, and went on carriage rides with Mrs. Lincoln, until we finally reached the climax, which I did enjoy. I would have been more invested had anything happened to Isabelle throughout the middle of the book. As it was, there was one small incident that was barely a blip. It happened so fast, I wasn’t even sure if it was real or Isabelle’s imagination.

I did enjoy learning a little more about Mary Todd Lincoln though. I had no clue that after the assassination of her husband President Abraham Lincoln, she was sent to a sanitarium due to her behaviors that her son found troubling. 

Overall, I wouldn’t recommend this book unless you’re a big fan of historical novels. 

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