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Novel set in Cornwall (a book that is “.. unforgettable”)

4th June 2016

The Unforgotten by Laura Powell –  novel set in Cornwall of the 1950s.

novel set in cornwallIn 1956, fifteen-year-old Betty Broadbent is living in fictional St. Steele, a small Cornish fishing village where she helps her decidedly flaky mother run a boarding house, pretentiously named Hotel Eden. A series of brutal murders draws a pack of London reporters to the village and they take up residence in the boarding house, waiting for the murderer to strike again. Amongst this unsavoury crew is the enigmatic Mr. Gallagher, who shows some interest in Betty. Starved of love and attention, the naïve girl quickly becomes besotted by the reporter and an uneasy relationship develops.

The novel shifts in narration from 1950’s Cornwall to fifty years later, when we meet another character, Mary, who has clearly been involved in the early events and whose life is more blighted by these early events than it is by her present breast cancer. This is a skilfully plotted novel and it makes for a gripping read, as you try to work out the true identity of “The Cornish Cleaver” and the extent of Mary’s involvement. Powell manages to convey very vividly the feeling of panic and desperate grasping for a solution that pervades the small community and she keeps the reader guessing right to the very end.

A gripping read – yes – but not a comfortable one, by any means. Praise can be given to Powell, who, despite her youth, has managed to recreate a real feel of the 1950’s when women’s lives were largely drudgery and rampant sexism ensured that the only hope for the future for most women was to marry well. Hence Betty’s alcoholic mother is desperate for Betty to encourage the revolting George’s amorous advances, as he is the only son of the biscuit factory owner and snagging a catch like that could be their salvation. This novel isn’t going to prompt the reader to go racing off to Cornwall, but let’s face it, anywhere in the 1950’s looks grim.

George is a despicable character, but, in truth so are most of the others. Betty’s world is full of people who want to exploit and abuse her. It is a world full of leering, lascivious men, where no one can be really trusted. No wonder poor Betty sees murderers everywhere.

This is a first novel and, I think, a brave one. Powell isn’t frightened to explore the darker side of human nature and doesn’t spare the reader – the brutal, detailed account of a miscarriage will stay with me for some time. The Unforgotten is pretty much unforgettable – in both good and bad ways. I look forward (with some trepidation) to her next novel.

Ellen for the TripFiction Team

For more books set in CORNWALL, just click here

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