- Book: One Cornish Summer
- Location: Cornwall
- Author: Liz Fenwick
This novel was the #TFBookClub choice for July/August 2018 and you can read the comments on this post. There was a good deal of positive feedback about both the storyline and the interesting setting!
The novel is made up of short chapters, mostly alternating between Hebe and Lucy, set in 2016 with occasional flashbacks to 2015.
At the heart of the novel is the old ramshackle grand house “Helwyn House” (Helwyn meaning “bounteous hall”) inspired by the National Trust’s Godolphin, near Helston in Cornwall.
Hebe is suffering from early onset dementia caused by the rotten gene that seems to afflict her family. It is clear from the sensitive portrayal that the author has observed deterioration of this kind first hand and has translated the effects on both an individual and those close into poignant prose.
Hebe is a pre-eminent academic specialising in the Civil War, and particularly the Seventeenth Century in Cornwall. Helwyn House has been in her heart for many a year, family holidays, but more pertinently for her because her speciality research has been Thomas Grylls, who mysteriously disappeared and she just has a feeling that the house will somehow give the answers she craves.
Lucy, her niece, a young socialite in London has been caught in flagrante with a married politician and is bundled off to Cornwall to manage her wayward aunt, and prevent her from spending her life savings on the purchase of Helwyn House.
The story is like snow-flakes fluttering down, heading seasonally from Autumn into Winter and Christmas, which melt and pool to combine into elements of the story. Hebe’s past story is set over one summer, but I think the title is slightly misleading given the overall storyline. She has had a much younger lover and fondly looks back to 2015 a fulfilling time together. John Donne and his wise, often sensual words, pepper the pages; Kit Williams, a star in Hollywood, bids on the house but loses out to Hebe, but nevertheless finds his heart settled in Cornwall; witchcraft, priest holes and the ghostly feel in the North bedroom all lend a sense of a history waiting to be uncovered by the characters in the novel….
The storyline is a great concept, a house onto which the family members can be pegged, dynamics played out, love in its many guises depicted. The sense of Cornwall, bleak at times but hearty at others comes to life.
It took a little while to get into the story as the time periods 2015/16 are quite close and it is important to distinguish between the two. Overall it is a satisfying and well told story.