1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer’s daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war.
But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour – but has she left it too late?
2014, and Maggie’s granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn’t wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?
This is a novel about identity and belonging; guilt, regret and atonement; the unrealistic expectations placed on children and the pain of coming of age. It’s about small lies and dark secrets. But above all it’s about a beautiful, desolate, complex place.
Skylark Farm, perched on a windswept cliff on the North Cornish coast has always been home to Maggie, and over the following years, her own growing family. By 2014 it has seen good times and bad, but always simmering under the surface are the secrets and lies of a fateful summer in 1943 that 70 years later still has a hold over Maggie.
Dual time frames seem to be the order of the day at the minute, but unlike some this is well done and helps to gradually unfold the story of Maggie and the farm’s evacuees Will and his sister Alice.
Flitting between the inhabitants in the present day with their own unique worries and collective problems and the unravelling mystery of the past, Maggie is the lynch pin holding everything together, but the question is for how long. When a surprise visitor comes to stay in one of the cottages, her return is a catalyst for change not only for Maggie, but also the wider family as they confront realities and discover what they really want for the future.
I really enjoyed this book, and thought that in this instance the dual time frame aspect worked well. It added to the tension and also helped to emphasise that the past was also very much a part of the present for Maggie. It also helped to place the farm very much at the heart of the story, which was crucial when it came to looking at it’s present day situation.
The characters are all believable and it’s impossible not to sympathise with both Alice and Maggie, when faced with their dilemma, although their actions leave both feeling guilty and remorseful for differing reasons. They are both in their own way young and naive and it takes their older selves to cope with the consequences which have haunted them.
But the story is not all about the past, it’s also a realistic look at the problems of modern day farming and the way forward for many struggling farms as they look to diversify or fail.
From the beginning this was a story that had me hooked, both in the present and in the past. It deals with age old themes, of love and loss, family and responsibility, truth and lies and of coming to terms with the consequences of actions. It was a story well told with an ending that was fitting.
I received a review copy via NetGalley in return for an honest review.