Thursday, December 1, 2016

Penhaligon's Attic by Terri Nixon

Available from Piatkus 1st December 2016


1910. Anna Garvey arrives in Caernoweth, Cornwall with her daughter and a secret. Having come from Ireland to take up an inheritance of the local pub, she and her eighteen year-old daughter Mairead are initially viewed with suspicion by the close-knit community.
Anna soon becomes acquainted with Freya Penhaligon, a vulnerable girl struggling to keep her family business afloat in the wake of her grandmother's death, and starts to gain the trust of the locals. As their friendship deepens, and Freya is brought out of her shell by the clever and lively Mairead, even Freya's protective father Matthew begins to thaw.
But when a part of Anna's past she'd long tried to escape turns up in the town, she is forced to confront the life she left behind - for her sake and her daughter's too . . .


This story begins with Freya Penhaligon, beloved child of Isabel, her Spanish mother accustomed to a more affluent life, and her alcoholic father, Matthew. Freya chooses to see the best of her parents and adores them equally, but matters come to a head one night on a stormy beach and Isabel takes Freya away.
The reader isn’t told exactly what happens to Freya during her years in London, but she returns to Cornwall in her later teens to live with her reformed father, and widowed grandfather, Robert, in his second-hand bookshop with the charming name of Penhaligon’s Attic.
Terri Nixon is an expert at portraying human emotions, from the guilt-ridden agony of past actions to requited affection and mutual attraction. There are plenty of all these in this story, which takes another path with the arrival of Anna Garvey and her daughter Mairead from Ireland. Gossip in the closed Cornish community paints an unflattering picture of this stranger in their midst, maybe because her reclaiming the local pub puts several noses out of joint.
To reveal more would tell too much of the story which I feel readers need to experience for themselves, however, I will add that although many things improve for some people in this coastal village, there are further tragedies which descend on others when the details about Anna are revealed.
Again, Ms Nixon, whose social and  idiomatic knowledge is very impressive, has brought into vivid perspective how a small Cornish community in the early 20th Century struggled to love and survive, with all the character, prejudices and secrets that make people so fascinating. A very satisfactory read.

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