“The secrets of Summer House are about to come out at last…”
- Book: The Secrets Of Summer House
- Location: Cambridge, Suffolk
- Author: Rachel Burton
Several of my fellow bloggers have been commenting about just how much they are craving ‘comfort’ stories right now. My schedule has been so full of WWII stories full of sadness and death, and rather deep and dark thrillers, that I didn’t fully appreciate what those readers meant, until I read this lovely story. I finished The Secrets Of Summer House in just a couple of sittings, although I feel sure that if I had been able to secure a dedicated ‘bibliotherapy’ session (yes! that really is a word), I could have safely powered through it in a day, whilst still enjoying an easy, leisurely read.
So let’s get down to a potted version of the storyline first, although the premise really does already include ‘spoilers’…
Cambridge students Alice and Tristan, meet by accident and against all the barriers of their diverse ‘no-money’, ‘new-money’ backgrounds, fall in love at first sight. Without the blessing of Tristan’s family, the couple get married and Alice immediately falls pregnant. Life is almost perfect, until a cruel twist of fate leaves a totally devastated and inconsolable Alice alone with a new baby. Unable to cope and convinced that running away is the only solution to her emotional torment, Alice reluctantly leaves baby Olivia to be raised by Tristan’s parents, Mary and Henry in ‘Summer House’, unaware of the lies and untruths with which they will fill the child’s mind in the years to come.
Fast forward forty years and Olivia is now married with a teenage son of her own, when she receives news that grandmother Mary has passed away, leaving an envelope for her granddaughter containing three photographs, which will turn her whole world and that of her husband Jacob, upside down. It turns out that by a cruel, yet ultimately happy, twist of fate and circumstance, Jacob’s father Caleb, holds the key which will begin to unlock this Pandora’s box of secrets, beginning with an emotional reunion between Olivia and her mother’s closest friend from their days at Cambridge, who opens Olivia’s eyes to the duplicity of her grandparents and the secrets they had kept from her, right up until their dying days.
The many pieces of the jigsaw begin to fit together, as long forgotten childhood memories surface for Olivia with the discovery of some hidden letters, which she and Jacob find whilst clearing out Summer House, following Mary’s funeral. For Olivia in particular, there are many moments of deep distress and sorrow, as the fragments of a life she never knew are laid out before her. But after all the lies which have already shrouded her past and with the increasingly fractured relationship she has with Jacob, which she desperately wants to put right, Olivia lays out the many strands of her story to Jacob and their son Nicholas, so that they can decide as a family unit, what steps if any, they want to take to bring about closure, before making any firm decisions about the future of Summer House itself.
Will the next few months, which pass in a blur for the three of them and includes a reunion trip to the other side of the world, a complete change in the way and pace of life on their return, and an unexpected happy event to look forward to in the not too distant future, bring about the happy ever after endings and new beginnings they seek?
This intriguing, atmospheric and immersive, multi-layered storyline, is well structured in short, easy to navigate chapters and narrated alternately and seamlessly, between the dual timelines of the late 1970s and 2018. It deals with so many issues from class disparity and family dynamics, to post natal depression (referred to as simply ‘baby blues’ back in the 1970s) and the fragility of the human mind; from the trauma of grief and the long term effects it can have on mental health, to abandonment and the realisation that everything you have ever been brought up to believe, is in fact, based on lies and half truths. There are several unexpected intense and emotional twists in this highly textured storyline, which is perceptive, intuitive, often raw and passionate, profoundly touching and lovingly written from the heart. The assured observational and descriptive narrative, together with some excellent conversational dialogue, also offers a genuine sense of time and place, only adding to the interest and intrigue.
A well defined cast of characters, definitely own this storyline, making it their own, albeit that there was scope for one or two of them to have been more fully and deeply developed. They were all quite a complex and emotional bunch, which often made them appear unreliable and rather vulnerable, thus making them difficult to connect with on many levels. However they were genuine, believable and authentic to the roles created for them by the author.
Although I find ‘star rating’ a book to be a very subjective exercise, I did mark this one down slightly, the reason being, that for me personally, the premise gave too much away, the Antipodean segment felt slightly rushed and I really don’t think I could have been quite so understanding with Alice, had I been Olivia.
However, I really enjoyed author Rachel Burton’s fluent style of writing and as this is the first of her seven books to date I have read, I shall most definitely be adding some of her previously published stories into my schedule.