Saturday, 7 July 2018

Emma's Review: The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell

Reviewed by Emma Crowley
'If she could reach back through the years and warn the person she once was, what would she say? ... What would she say to the ghosts who now inhabit her days? So many of those she has loved are now nothing but dust and memory.'
At twenty-six, Lillian feels trapped by life. Her marriage to Charles Oberon has not turned out the way she expected it would. To her it seems she is just another object captured within the walls of Cloudesley, her husband's beautiful manor house tucked away high in the Chiltern Hills. But, with a young step-son and a sister to care for, Lillian accepts there is no way out for her. Then Charles makes an arrangement with an enigmatic artist visiting their home and his presence will unbalance everything she thought she knew and understood.

Maggie Oberon ran from the hurt and resentment she caused. Half a world away, in Australia, it was easier to forget, to pretend she didn't care. But when her elderly grandmother, Lillian, falls ill she must head back to Cloudesley. Forced to face her past, Maggie fights to hold herself and her family's legacy together as she learns that all she thought was real, all that she held so close, was never as it seemed.

Two summers, decades apart.
Two women whose lives are forever entwined. 
And a house that holds the dark secrets that could free them both.

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Many thanks to Orion Publishing via NetGalley for my copy of The Peacock Summer to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.

The stunning cover for the new novel from Hannah Richell - The Peacock Summer instantly draws you in. The beautiful wallpaper inspires curiosity and you wonder how this can be connected to the story if at all? I wanted to venture through the door to discover what lay further on.To identify what the house called Cloudesley was willing to share with us. Right from the opening chapter this book was filled with lyrical, wonderful, descriptive writing that had you enraptured and so caught up in the story of Maggie and Lillian.

The Peacock Summer is a story to savour, one in which the words should be absorbed and cherished as the writing and descriptions are so vivid and beautiful. Allow yourself the time to draw comparisons between the two strands of the story, that of Lillian when one summer will change her life forever and that of her granddaughter Maggie many years later again faced with life altering decisions that need to be made. I did feel this story was very much a grower for me and then around the half way point it became an all consuming read in which I wanted to reach the end as quick as possible to see how everything would pan out. But at the same time there was a reluctance on my part to let these characters go to soon.The story started off slow and steady and maintained a languid, relaxed pace throughout before building to a magnificent finale providing us with a twist that I never saw coming and I doubt many other readers will too.

Maggie is in Sydney as far away from England as she possibly can be when she receives a call to say her grandmother Lillian is ill and that she needs to return home to care for her. Maggie had last left the village of Cloud Green and the family home Cloudesley over a year ago. She departed in a blind panic, on a cloud of shame she feels and up until now has had no intention of returning to the place where her grandparents reared her in the absence of her father and mother. Maggie obviously left England for a reason but said reason does not become apparent to the reader for quite some time. There are brief allusions as to the reasons for her leaving and the repercussions and feelings this event has instilled in those left behind. But nothing is definitive or confirmed until Maggie herself feels ready to open up. Her journey will be challenging to navigate and in seeking forgiveness and acceptance she proved to be brave and admirable and so too in the way she cares for Lillian.

All through the story I was desperate to know what made Maggie go on the run so to speak I wanted the answers sooner rather than later. Instead the author in a way teases us with snippets but when the reveal came it was more than worth the wait. It was surprising and shocking but when one allows time for reflection it did make sense for Maggie whether you agree with her reasons or not. Having received the phone call baring news no one would wish to hear Maggie makes the ultimate sacrifice and returns home. Lillian had fulfilled her duty to Maggie over many many years and now it is time for Maggie to do the same. Will Cloudesley remain unchanged or is it now on the slippery slope to decay without any hope of it returning to its former glory? Maggie will have to listen to the voices of the past in order to make so many wrongs right in the present.

As Maggie arrives home she is shocked by the state of what was once was a magnificent manor house. Yes all the treasures and collectibles gathered by her now departed grandfather Charles are still present but the house and grounds are falling into disrepair. Clearly Lillian has been hiding things and continuing on as if life was normal. But this is not a story about resurrecting a house and keeping it going although that is what Maggie aims to do and there is some focus on this but I am glad it was not the predominant theme. Instead the story was more character driven and as Maggie reacquaints herself with her grandmother, she sees she is a changed woman and not quite the same person who reared her. Maggie and Lillian in a way both live solitary lives despite having a connection to each other and it is delving deeper and exposing and understanding the reasons that form this solitude that form a substantial and important of the story. As we journey back to the past to make sense of the present it was Lillian's story that really had me enthralled.

Lillian aged 26, is the second wife of Charles Oberon, who runs his own business whilst also indulging his passion for collecting treasures, things of beauty and items from the arts. Charles' first wife passed away leaving him the sole carer of son Albie. Lillian steps into the mother role and establishes a connection with Albie. She promises to always stand by him, to do her best for him and she believes strongly in the marriage vows she exchanged with Charles. This sense of duty, of keeping promises and never reneging on what has been uttered is what I believe drove Lillian on throughout this story. She was very much in a catch twenty two situation as became quite evident to the reader.

It became clear that Charles presented a front to the world but behind closed doors he was a brute and tyrant instilling fear, apprehension and scars on those he should have shown the utmost respect and love for. Lillian became like the peacocks that inhabit the estate, once settled they never leave almost as if they are trapped. Surely there must have been more binding her to the house than simply a connection to Albie once she realised what kind of predicament she had gotten herself into. No matter how loyal and dedicated one is I know myself I would have tried to find some way of escape but Lillian was determined to whether the storm and maybe in doing so an unexpected ray of sunshine and happiness will make an appearance and change the way she views Cloudesley and its inhabitants.

As a new character makes themselves known and takes up residence in the manor house and sets upon completion of a task Lillian sees the tides of change turning. She no longer feels the need to keep things bottled up, to live a life of dictation where emotions are repressed. Instead she experiences happiness like no other but how long can these feelings be experienced for as the shadows and secrets of the house encroach further and threaten to upset the apple cart altogether. The story had great light and shade to it, moments of relief and joy and allowing the characters to be free and to be themselves and other points the darkness drew in and was in danger of overtaking everything.

There were lots of twists and turns and I never how everything could possibly resolve itself. It's clear both Lillian and Maggie are seeking something which once found will allow them to be free once and for all. But is it too late and is there to much damage done to reconcile everyone and everything once and for all? Hannah Richell through writing such an exceptionally special story has proven what a gifted and talented author she is. It was so beautifully crafted with so much care and attention given to every character, the setting, the imagery, the placement of words in each sentence and the overall meaning the author wanted to convey. The Peacock Summer was a highly impressive read which will leave you longing to read more from this excellent author.

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