Books Magazine

The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell

By Cleopatralovesbooks @cleo_bannister
Contemporary Fiction 5*s

Contemporary Fiction

I really enjoyed Hannah Richell’s debut novel, The Secrets of the Tides, so when my friend beat me to picking up this one from a used book corner on one of our outings at the end of the summer, she kindly agreed to pass it onto me. Having assured me it was well worth a read I finally got stuck into the book, and was quickly immersed in the story of five friends who decide to have an unconventional gap year in the 80s by squatting in an unused shepherd’s cottage in the Peak District.

In the present day Lila is struggling to come to terms with the death of her premature baby following an accident, one that haunts her all the more as she has no memory of what happened. When Lila receives the gift of a property complete with a key and a map via a solicitor she is confused, her father’s will has been settled. Even more intriguing the terms of the gift are that the benefactor is to remain anonymous, Lila racks her brains but can’t think of anyone who would leave her such a bequest. Lila’s husband Tom is busy designing a bridge but when there is a break in his schedule they manage to travel up to take a look. Tom, clearly preferring his busy life in London is fairly underwhelmed by the small, neglected house but anxious to do something, Lila decides the remoteness of the Peak District may be just what she needs and she can use her skills as an interior designer while she decides what to do with the property, and she secretly hopes that it will help her regain the memory of what happened on the day of the accident.

This really is a character led book with some amazing scenery thrown in for (very) good measure. I was transported to the little cottage alongside a lake with Kat, Simon, Mac, Ben and Carla for company. This is an incredibly evocative book which conjures up a place of hope for the idealistic graduates. Where better to try out a self-sufficient lifestyle, particularly when the summer seems to roll ahead forever and there is food to eat from the land, including fish from the lake. The present is equally compelling with the author accurately capturing the essence of the grief that Lila is suffering from, without it becoming so depressing I didn’t want to continue. Just as the interplay between the friends in the 80s is the lynchpin to this part of the tale, Lila’s relationships play an equally profound part in the present.

Of course eventually we learn why Lila has been left the neglected property and what happened to those five friends in the past, and if this book couldn’t garner more praise from me, this was exceptionally well plotted too! There were a number of elements to work out and while some of my guesses were spot on, others were far wide of the mark, although the mystery plays almost a bit part in this novel.

I really loved being immersed in this novel, both past and present, watching the inter-play between the characters was both fascinating and absorbing whilst being dazzled by the carefree start to the adventure yet knowing that darker, colder days were on the horizon.

If you enjoy stories where actions in the past have consequences years later this is a book that has it all, a few mysteries, well-drawn characters and a stunning location.

The Shadow Year – Hannah Richell

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