Title: The Peacock Summer
Author: Hannah Richell
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Published: 26th June 2018
Synopsis: Two summers, decades apart. Two women whose lives are forever entwined. And a house that holds the secrets that could free them both.
At twenty-six, Lillian feels ancient and exhausted. Her marriage to Charles Oberon has not turned out the way she thought it would. To her it seems she is just another beautiful object captured within the walls of Cloudesley, her husband’s Chilterns manor house. 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 her world is turned on its head.
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 grandmother, Lillian, falls ill she must head back to Cloudesley. Forced to face her past, she will learn that all she thought was real, all that she held so close, was never as it seemed.
An utterly compelling story of secrets, betrayals and the consequences of a long-ago summer from the internationally bestselling author of Secrets of the Tides and The Shadow Year.
The Peacock Summer opens with Lilian and Maggie in 2015, each in different countries, as the impetus for Maggie’s return to Cloudesley to look after her grandmother, who raised her after Maggie’s father, Lilian’s step-son – Albie – has left and been out of her life for quite some time. Both women have past secrets that they must face when they reunite with each other and those around them – as memories of past summers come back into their minds and psyches. Woven throughout the narrative are the reasons each woman is secretive and slowly, these secrets are revealed through flashbacks and interactions with other characters, adding to the mystery of the novel as it moves along, and the intrigue of Lilian’s relationship with her husband and the painter he has hired to paint a room in their house.
As well as this, Maggie’s search for her mother becomes a plot point, and an answer that must be given – her uncertainty about events in her life, and her feelings about her family are slowly revealed. Even though the pacing of the novel is slow, it fits with the storyline and events of the plot in 1955 and the 2015 plot that weave in and out of each other, and eventually, culminate in an ending that is bittersweet, but nonetheless enjoyable.
The painter employed to paint the room – Jack Fincher – develops feelings for Lilian, that she yearns to return. Their story provides the backbone to the mystery of the house and the lives of Maggie, Lilian and Albie that culminate in a surprising, unexpected and heartbreaking ending for all the characters. Jack was a balm to Charles, who seemed to only want Lilian to raise Albie, whereas Jack wanted more for her – whatever it took to get that for her. Loyalties are tested in this book, in both women’s lives, but they remain loyal to each other the whole way through, determined to be there and to love each other.
As the realities of Maggie and Lilian’s lives evolved and revealed themselves throughout the novel, the story grew, and the mysteries of the family were revealed – why Maggie lived with her grandparents, where Albie always was, what was behind the locked door, and why Maggie had run away and was only just returning. It is a novel of intrigue and family secrets, that show what the characters thought did not reflect the truth behind what they knew or were told.
In the aftermath of World War Two, Lilian marries and becomes a step-mother, and goes from village life to living on an estate with servants, where she must find a way to fit in with society ladies in an ever-changing world, where what was once expected is now seen as acceptable, but where some things are still seen as something not to be spoken about – and yet, as a reader, there is always the sense that something is not quite right, in 1955 and sixty years later, and also a sense that Maggie and Lilian are secretive themselves, even if they want to talk about things, and make amends.
Overall, it is an excellent novel, and the first of Hannah’s that I have read. It weaves history and the past into the present, and flows nicely between each perspective, and is meticulously researched as well, giving it a sense of authenticity.