1961: On a sweltering summer’s day, while her family picnics by the stream on their Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy called Billy, a move to London, and the bright future she can’t wait to seize. But before the idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything.
2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds – Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy – who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatefully entwined.
I am often put off by books that are hundreds of pages long, but despite the size of this novel, I found that I whizzed through it in just a few days. At the very start, we are plunged into a great family mystery and follow Laurel as she tries to work out what happened with her mother Dorothy on that summer day back in 1961…
The book flits about a lot between 1941, 1961 and 2011 – this allows the reader to slowly piece together everything that has happened and to find out more about the main characters Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy. I must admit I did find it frustrating every time we came back to the present day as I was so absorbed with the story unfolding during the war. But the novel was cleverly structured, and the parallels between Laurel uncovering the truth alongside the reader did work well in the main. I liked the depictions of wartime London and the way in which the relationships between the three key characters unfold, and in many unexpected ways. The characters aren’t always as straightforward as they might at first appear, and again I think this worked really well and I did feel that, by the end, I had a very complete picture of the three main protagonists.
The author drops in lots of clues and hints as we read the novel, and I had a lot of excellent theories and was convinced I knew precisely what was going to happen to the characters. Needless to say, I was completely wrong! The twist at the end did come as a surprise, and was cleverly done.
I did find the sections set in the present day a little less interesting – although some of the ways in which Laurel picked up clues to what had happened did add to the overall mystery of the story.
Overall I did really enjoy this book, and it is definitely one that needs to be read in large chunks so you can keep up with where you are and what is happening. The twist was unexpected but worked well, and it’s definitely encouraged me to read The Forgotten Garden by the same author, which I have had on my bookshelf unread for many years!
My rating: 8 out of 10