Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: Orion (24 May 2012)
When artist Maddie inherits a house in Cornwall shortly after the death of her husband, she hopes it will be the fresh start she and her step-daughter Hannah desperately need.
Trevenen is beautiful but neglected, a rambling house steeped in history. Maddie is enchanted by it and determined to learn as much as she can about its past. As she discovers the stories of generations of women who’ve lived there before, Maddie begins to feel her life is somehow intertwined within its walls.
But Maddie’s dream of a calm life in the countryside is far from the reality she faces. Still struggling with her grief and battling with Hannah, Maddie is unable to find inspiration for her painting and realises she may face the prospect of having to sell Trevenen, just as she is coming to love it.
And as Maddie and Hannah pull at the seams of Trevenen’s past, the house reveals secrets that have lain hidden for generations.
This gorgeously sweeping debut from Liz Fenwick is touched with romance and mystery, a perfect summer read.
The reader first meets Maddie and step-daughter Hannah when they’re almost at the end of their journey to reach Trevenen. They’ve been on the road from London since 2pm and have now been travelling for 8 hours. The car breaks down on a deserted country road. It’s Friday and a Bank Holiday weekend. Leaving Hannah asleep, Maddie goes off and eventually finds a home with a light on. The homeowner opens the door in a dishevelled state and after phoning the rescue service, walks Maddie back to the car. This is the first time that Mark Triggs rescues Maddie … Watching Maddie and Hannah interact, the reader knows there is a great deal of tension between them.
Narrated in the third person and switching between Maddie and Hannah’s point of view, the reader gets to experience how each of them handle their grief over John and settle into a small community. The tension between them is very real and affects them on many levels. There are some real heart-breaking scenes that we witness. At the end of each narration, the reader is left with either intrigue (and so questions that need answering!) or unresolved tension. This is a real page turner.
Hannah connects with her peers easily. Release from the tensions with Maddie comes from time spent with Old Tom. Retired school teacher, courteous and ‘old-fashioned’ he can say things to her that no-one else can. Old Tom is a key figure in many ways. One of my favourite scenes is with Hannah working the wood with him. I loved the way the author showed the connection between the wood and Hannah. It reminded me of the days when I used to go to work with my father in the holidays! Being a cabinet maker and French Polisher, I always thought my father had an almost mystical connection with the wood … the author explains this beautifully.
Decisions that were made when John was alive affect Maddie on a very deep level and so she is also carrying burdens from this time into the present time. Those decisions are hinted at so that we know there is also something else underlying Maddie’s grief although we don’t know what that is for sure for a long time. I made a tentative guess … I say tentative because I couldn’t work out the reason so thought I wasn’t correct. When we know the reason it makes perfect sense on a logical/practical level. It also links into the history of Trevenen.
There are two male leads … Mark Triggs who has emotional baggage from his past and has quite a reputation. His friendship with Maddie deepens which is enchanting to watch. To the reader it feels real and not contrived. The easiness they have with each and the intimacy pulls you in and I have to say affects your own emotions! The other lead is ‘The Viking’, Gunnar who is in the area researching. Both bring her trauma – unintentionally. I have to admit to falling in love with Mark myself. Who wouldn’t want a man who is always there in times of need and causes that type of chemical reaction : )
When Maddie enters Trevenen for the first time “The disturbance caused dust to swirl and a sigh seemed to emerge from the walls.” I loved the visuals this created.
The family history connection is woven through the story. If you read my reviews you will know how much I enjoy these threads. Maddie enters Trevenen knowing nothing and alongside our characters we find out a little at a time and so the truth builds. This is another page turner.
I felt the author captured a small community with its social dynamics really well. I feel as if I have been a part of it! I’ve felt doubt, pain and love. I’ve sat in the church and felt tears on my cheeks. I’ve felt anger and frustration at the world. Colours have caught my eye that I wanted to paint and I’ve eaten meals in the pub enjoying Tamsin’s banter.
The Cornish House is a stunning debut.
No surprises at my rating:
I would like to thank the author for choosing me to win a signed copy on Facebook. I am so glad she did! This is one of my favourite books this year.