Catrin survives by denying her past. Her marriage is in crisis. She has devoted herself for eighteen years to bringing up her adopted Deaf daughter, Bethan. She is unaware that her life is about to be shattered by the appearance of the woman she has been told is dead, Bethan’s birth mother, Elizabeth. Catrin is devastated. How will Bethan react? Why has Elizabeth hidden away all these years?
Slowly and painfully, Catrin is forced to examine the web of lies and secrets from her past, the unexplained death of her ‘golden brother’, the truths about her alcoholic mother and the relationships she has now with her father and husband.
The book opens with a birth and a death that after 18 years continue to have a profound impact on Catrin’s life. All the seething emotions re-surface when Catrin’s father decides to sell Dragon House, the family home and hold a memorial service for Aled, the perfect, idolised son who died all those years ago..
Catrin along with daughters Lowrie and Bethan, journey back to Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsula to help pack up the house. What actually happens is not so much a packing away as a peeling back the layers to reveal the hidden secrets and lies that go back much further than the fateful night that the book opens with.
It was an intriguing story with Catrin enmeshed in the centre first, as the dutiful daughter/loving sister and then as supportive wife and mother. From the outset I think it was clear that all was not as it had been portrayed to, and by, Catrin. The story line was very much played out largely within the dialogue between the characters and though this worked for the most part, on occasions, the conversations felt a bit stilted as they endeavoured to reveal facts and plot. Equally some characters I felt were there as a means of relaying plot and were less rounded. Beyond that though, the characters worked well, and Catrin was for me, the most sympathetic character, though I took a while to warm to her. Initially I felt like shouting at her to stop being so reasonable and unselfish, but as the story unravelled, I was quite admiring that she had any self belief left at all. I have to say the male gender did not cover themselves in glory, and while her partner redeemed himself, her father was one of the most selfish, unfeeling characters I’ve met in a while – I’d have been cheering that he was leaving to live in New York, packing his bags and pushing him on the plane!
Her daughters were two very different characters Lowrie was bright, bubbly, positive and well-rounded, while Bethan left me in two minds. On the one hand very motivated and positive with the way she coped with her deafness and didn’t let it be a hindrance, but on the other very childlike and quite selfish, though I guess that was also largely due to being cosseted and indulged by Catrin.
The number of threads that run through the book, gave it an added complexity that will strike different chords with different readers, but the nature of family dynamics and motherhood were primary themes, followed by adoption and deafness. It was a dramatic, and ultimately cathartic, uncovering of family secrets and lies, that opened up the way for hope and optimism. For anyone who likes family dramas, with a small town setting, this one should hit all the right buttons.
I know Rhossili well – we used to go there regularly in my early twenties when I had a boyfriend with a car. There was just nothing there except beach and sea and gorse.
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I don’t know Rhossili so don’t know how realistic the description is, but there was certainly beach and sea.
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