Shipleigh is a rural treasure, a hamlet in the depths of the Devon countryside, far-removed from modern civilisation. The isolated peace of Shipleigh provides a welcome relief from the devastation of the Second World War and the ruptured marriage of Mavis Gaunt’s parents. Abandoning a secretarial position in London, Mavis takes root in her Aunt’s cottage, but becomes harried by reminders of a disconcerting memory that she cannot put to rest. Teetering on the cusp of old age, unmarried and childless, she is forced to revisit the past by the arrival of two newcomers: Evie, a single mother, and her endearing son Archie.
Whilst the third person narrator occasionally indulges the reader in the individual perspectives of its supporting characters, this story very much belongs to Mavis. Initially, Feaver presents us with the caricature of a curtain-twitching, countrified old lady, a stereotype which is immediately scuppered by intimations of the chilling secret which haunts her. The narrative voice captures her nuances of character perfectly, marrying the reflective innocence of childhood with the affected voice of experience.
The events of Mavis’ heart-rending past are not unveiled in chronological order. The narrator flits continuously between place and time, prompted by a scent or fleeting gesture to move between interlocking memories. Feaver’s narrative structure provides a true reflection of the nature of human consciousness itself, commanding the reader’s attention as the tragic history of Shipleigh is gradually revealed.
This novel will evoke an overwhelming nostalgia in any reader with memories of a rural childhood, where the juxtaposition of comfort and claustrophobia are often conflated. The real brilliance of the book lies in Feaver’s attention to detail and her comprehensive understanding of the imperceptible depth of human relationships. After the powerful, disturbing revelation surrounding the mysterious Upcott family, the reader’s faith in humanity is restored with a hopeful glimpse of a brighter future for Mavis. Thoroughly insightful and beautifully composed, this novel is a must-read, especially for those with a penchant for village life.
Published by Corsair.
Reviewed by Emma Weatherhead for Literature Works.