Novel set in Victorian Birmingham
Novel set in the Chilterns (painting, peacocks and parties…)
8th March 2019
The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell, novel set in the Chilterns.
This is a dual timeline novel following the story of Lillian in the post WW2 years and granddaughter Maggie in the present day. There are various backstories which are beautifully knitted together. At the heart is the historic family home of Cloudesley, set in fictional Cloud Green in the Chilterns. Parties and peacocks were the order of the day back then. Now, however, the whole estate has fallen into disrepair and a lot of money is required to turn everything around. That is down to Maggie to sort out.
The author has a real gift for transitioning between the two time periods, the stories flow effortlessly which is a real feat. She feeds in quite a few themes – not too many – and knits them all together in a cohesive way.
After the war Lillian meets Charles (they literally run into each other on a road) who is the owner of the mansion Cloudesley and who is on the look-out for a new mother for Albie; his first wife is dead. Lillian slides into the role of wife and parent but soon discovers Charles’ darker side and his growing abusive behaviour towards her. The author builds up the picture of domestic violence in a layered and thoughtful way. Lillian’s focus throughout is on Albie, the young son, and she will tolerate most things in order to protect him.
Charles engages a young painter, Jack Fincher, to paint a mural in the room that was the nursery. Lillian is now barren. This handsome and capable young man joins the household over one Summer and the scene is set. His mural gains significance as he finds his inspiration and gets into his stride.
Albie is the missing generation. He has seen too much of his caregivers’ relationship and flees when he can. He travels the world without a care, elusive and with neither a real sense of purpose nor responsibility. He has a fling and into the world comes Maggie. Both birth parents literally abandon her and she is brought up by grandmother Lillian (who is not a blood relative but the next best thing). I feel that the hurt and abandonment issues suffered by Maggie could perhaps have had more core exploration and tended to be brushed over in the narrative; the single flaw to my mind in the otherwise very good story.
Maggie is called back from Australia as Lillian has taken a fall and needs care. Just the previous year Maggie had a local entanglement which devastated those involved. And now she is back to face her past as well as pick up the threads with her grandmother and truly understand the weight of the estate and its disrepair. Her own history starts to unfurl as she discovers secrets and the true story of her family history.
The writing is thoughtful and as graceful as the peacocks that once strutted the Cloudesley manicured lawns. It’s well put together and a pleasure to read. Recommended.
Tina for the TripFiction Team
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