Review: ‘The Last Pier’ by Roma Tearne [2015]

Goodreads: How deep the summer had bitten into the land that last August, how cruelly it had burnt into earth and grass and air. What had started out as a pastel and water-faded spring turning so unexpectedly into a splintering, shimmering thing. All that had been required was a spark to cause a fire. Why had no one noticed?

The summer of 1939 broke the Maudsley family. Cecily was only 13-years-old and desperate to grow up; desperate to be as beautiful and desired and reckless as her older sister Rose. Now, in her 40s, the family resemblance is uncanny, but Cecily is a shadow of her former self. A part of her died that fateful summer. Returning to the deserted family farm as an adult, Cecily recalls the light before the storm, before the war came and before the terrible family tragedy. It was a summer of laughter and ice cream, promises and first love. She remembers her father’s unrequited love for her, her melancholy mother, and her brittle and argumentative aunt Kitty, and how everyone, somehow, was guarding a secret. None more so than the impossibly beautiful Rose. And in her childhood innocence, between snatches of misunderstood conversations, Cecily helps set in motion a chain of devastating events. Wandering through the family home 29 years later, Cecily hopes to lay some ghosts to rest but the past has yet to give up some shocking secrets.

the last pier

‘The Last Pier’ is an extremely poignant, surreal work of historical fiction. The novel delves into the lives of the Maudsley family on the brink of the Second World War, elegantly weaving together their lives, secrets and those of the community around them. ‘The Last Pier’ made me desperately, desperately sad and it felt almost like an invasion of privacy to read about the protagonist, Cecily, as she struggles to rebuild something from the rubble of her war-torn, secret-stained life.

The first thing I noticed in ‘The Last Pier’ is how well Tearne set the scene. She captures perfectly the wild, unpredictable Suffolk coast and its surrounding countryside. I was constantly picturing either this dark, lonely landscape or the heat-scorched yellow fields of the daytime (based on my own Suffolk village), and I think this setting was a brilliant choice to build and compliment the atmosphere of the novel. The quality of the prose is almost poetic, so alongside the construction of this landscape we are treated to a slow-building narrative interspersed with beautiful, interesting moments of revelation and clarity. Furthermore, conversely to what one would usually find in historical fiction, I like that the war is not the central focus of the novel. Instead the war drives events from offstage, largely due to the novel being written from a child’s perspective. The novel is written like a microchosm: the small ‘world’ of the Bly community acting as representative of the effect of the war everywhere. It gives this massive, mind-boggling event a very personal feel.

My only drawback with ‘The Last Pier’ is that it was confusing at times. I followed the jumps in time easily, but all the different mysteries tying into Rose’s death did become a bit much for me to keep up with, in particular her relationship with Pinky Wilson. Again, I think this was perhaps due to Cecily’s perception of the events, and I did like this idea that Cecily’s eavesdropping habit and some terrible cases of jumping to conclusions set the events of the novel in motion: a very unique twist. Some elements could have been a bit clearer though – I would also have loved more exploration of why Kitty acts in the way she does, but I accept that this is not her story.

Returning to the positives, there were a lot of shocking moments in ‘The Last Pier’ that made it a very interesting read. I had no idea about the awful treatment of the Italian community during the Second World War, and this novel really had an impact with its description of this and made me want to find out more about it – it was devastating. Moreover the revelation about Cecily’s mother is, by far, the crowning triumph of the novel. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, but I really didn’t and it elevated the narrative for me.

The characterisation in ‘The Last Pier’ is also very well executed. Cecily is beautiful and intriguing both as a child and an adult, and her view of her family is weaved so brilliantly into the narrative that I found myself sharing her idolisation of Rose, her love for Carlo and her doubts concerning her parents. These characters are all well written and rounded; I particularly enjoyed hearing about the history between Agnes, Kitty and Selwyn. Carlo as the subject of Cecily’s young affections is beautiful, fun-loving and good-hearted. I wanted to see more of him throughout the novel, as well as his siblings.

To conclude, I think that ‘The Last Pier’ is a beautifully written piece of prose. The plot is tangled, and distorted by Cecily’s imagination which makes it challenging in places, but this adds to the mystery and atmosphere. The characters are enjoyable to read, particularly Rose and the Molinello family, and the wider framework of the War adds an extra layer of tension. I picked up ‘The Last Pier’ completely on a whim in Waterstones but I am very glad I did, and would recommend it again in future.

Review: Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’ [2016]

Greetings bloggers! Before I get started on this review I just want to give you all the heads up about the next month or two – I am starting my internship with Cancer Research UK on Monday, so I might not be around too much! It’s only standard working hours but I am moving around a lot between different relatives and friends for the duration so that I can commute into London, and I also want to sign up for as many of the extra social activities, training opportunities etc as possible to make a good impression! I’ll still be reading (the one bonus of a long commute) but I might be a bit slow getting my thoughts down into type, so bear with me!

The widow

I have been getting really into my creepy, psychological novels recently so I was really excited to take a crack at Fiona Barton’s ‘The Widow’. I picked it up in Waterstones expecting it to be similar to my recently reviewed ‘Luckiest Girl Alive’ but I have to say, ‘The Widow’ far surpassed those expectations. I thought it was written brilliantly and the similar genre of psychological thriller is taken to a completely different level.

One of the main attributes of this novel that I enjoyed was the unique viewpoint. The experience of the spouse of someone who is accused of paedophilia or murder is not one you often think about, and this is what really drew me into buying ‘The Widow’ because it is a fresh approach to a topic that can sometimes be used purely for a bit of ‘shock factor’, without being truly understood or well handled. Being able to see the story from a different point of view made the novel far more interesting, and with the use of alternating narrators we get a far deeper insight and more well-rounded view of the characters – Kate’s view of Jean versus Jean’s perception of herself, and Jean’s view of Dawn, for example. This also means that we can see the different people and roles that are involved in such a horrifying event and the ensuing investigation, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the work of journalists such as Kate, trying to get interviews with people like Jean and tackle really difficult subjects.

As we begin to unravel Jean Taylor’s story, the novel just gets more and more interesting and when new things are revealed we start to question the reliability of the narrator. Jean knows more than we think she does, and her own psychological struggles begin to be unearthed. Her warped view of Bella’s mother really exposes this, and I loved the glimpse of her twisted perception.

However, the main struggle of this novel was that the widow was a massively irritating character to read a lot of the time. She was very whiny and self-absorbed, and whilst I appreciate that it was part of her psychology to act in that way it got a bit much to read from her perspective and really started to grate on the enjoyment of reading. Couple Jean with Detective Bob the woman hater and I was starting to hate most people featured in ‘The Widow’. By contrast, Kate was a strong and likeable character with a wry sense of humour and I wish more could have been seen of her life and experiences. Glen himself was written well; we don’t see anything from his viewpoint but Jean’s descriptions of him are very clever in how they show his manipulative side.

For a debut novel ‘The Widow’ is in my eyes a complete success. Despite some of my misgivings about the characters, the sinister undercurrent is unmistakeable and exactly what I love in a novel.  There was no gob-smacking twist that smacked you around the back of the head at the end, but I can forgive that. This couple are far too creepy for it to not have been the ending we were expecting and the plot would have been rendered almost entirely irrelevant if Barton took it in a different direction.

Have you read ‘The Widow’? What did you think?

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child [2016]

I know I’m a little bit late to the party, but here it is…my thoughts on Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! I thought it might be nice to let the dust settle around this one before I threw my hat into the ring. My review is going to focus on the development of character for the most part, because I think it is rather difficult to talk about much else without having seen the play as it is meant to be seen!

the cursed child

First up and one of the best parts of the script, is the relationship between Albus and Harry. Their relationship was a joy to read because it was realistic. It would have been entirely irritating for Harry to move seamlessly through adult life, and I could completely understand Albus and his difficulty adapting to life as Harry Potter’s son. Kids are cruel, and their awe for Harry himself doesn’t stop them from bullying Albus mercilessly. The same applies for Scorpius, who is a welcome friend and comfort in the novel – I particularly enjoyed his scene as the Scorpion King. I think almost everyone has pinpointed and praised this dynamic so I won’t go into it too far, but the representation of the power of friendship echoes the original Harry Potter series and I think that is important.

A character that I was a little more conflicted about was Rose. I wished there was more of Rose so that we could see her development, her drives and her feelings as she treats Albus in the way she does. Instead, she just seemed like a bit of a bitch. She’s young so we can forgive her, and I like that her and Albus are not automatically friends because of her parents, but I wish we could have seen a little more from her perspective: perhaps a scene of her with her friends, or a soliloquy. This would have been a very welcome insight before Rose begins to change her attitude towards Albus and Scorpius. I think she had the potential to be a fantastic, funny character but this wasn’t realised.  And from the conflicted to the downright disappointing: Ron. Unfortunately Ron became a bit of a joke character, which is a real shame because the way Rowling constructed his character was at once beautifully raw and comedic. I feel like he lost his identity and unique flaws completely.

I don’t want to make this review too negative because I really did enjoy the script, but I’m struggling to find much to say about the plot which was essentially pointless for the first three quarters of the novel. The circling around in time to feature old characters and provide a bit of entertainment worked well, but it was just that: entertaining and nothing else. The final confrontation, revelation etcetera did at last provide some drama and saved it for me (As you might expect from a play, the beginning is largely setting up context and introducing character). However I don’t hold these points against the script, because I think onstage as a proper performance this wouldn’t be the case at all.

To compare Cursed Child to the rest of the series is very difficult. In fact I had to completely disconnect it from the other novels in order to enjoy it, as it reads like light-hearted fanfiction rather than a serious continuation of the series. Overall I enjoyed ‘Cursed Child’ as a quick, relaxed foray back into the lives of the characters that I adored for my entire childhood and my shortcomings will in no way prevent me from going to see the play onstage if I get the chance. A script is never going to match up to seeing the performance properly, where stage tricks and the introductions of different, old-loved characters would be far more exciting.