‘It’s something she learned years ago -the hard way– and that she knows she will never forget: even the sweetest fruit will rot and fall into the earth, eventually. No matter how deep you bury the pain, the bones of it will rise up to haunt you ….like the echoes of a summer’s night, like the river flowing relentlessly on its course’.
I truly enjoyed this beautiful, haunting and heart rending book. Margot Sorrell couldn’t stand the idea of going home. She believed in moving forward, not looking back. But she receives a text from her sister Lucy in Somerset, saying simply ‘I need you’. So Margot, Lucy and the oldest sister Eve, congregate in the house they grew up in, beside the river. In such close proximity, it becomes difficult to keep the secrets they have been hiding, from themselves as much as each other. A wedding has brought the sisters together but the past may well tear this family apart. This gathering will change them all forever. They will have to confront terrible sorrow before a healing can begin, but only if they are open and tell the truth.
The author tells the story of the Sorrell siblings through different perspectives. Current events are happening in the brief ten day period of Lucy’s sudden wedding, so there’s tension straight away in the tight time period – these three have a lot of past hurt to get through. We also visit events in the past, in longer chapters that really evoke their time periods of the late 1980s, 2005 and finally 2009-10. These chapters provide a forensic analysis of the family and how they’ve suffered, with so little closure that there is still simmering hurt just under the surface. We see how the girls parents, Kit and Ted, met each other and came to be at the house. Their usual roles reversed when Kit’s career grew and suddenly she didn’t have the same time for the girls as before. She would forget things she’d promised and couldn’t be relied upon. This affected the girls badly, it stopped them bringing friends home and when their parent’s relationship finally broke down it was Margot, the youngest sister, who was stuck at home with grieving Kit while her sisters went to college. These strands are woven together very skilfully by the author to show that the emotions stirred up by the family unit being back together are hard to manage.
I loved how the sisters fall back into their long defined family roles as soon as they were within the family home. The atmosphere at Windfalls is darkly evocative and nostalgic. Like any family home, it is the space of our best memories, but also our greatest sorrows. The description is densely layered so I felt I was there in the room with these characters, feeling their emotions. There is duplicity, uncertainty, yearning and regret between these family members and all of it just under the surface. Cleverly, the author chooses to keep Margot’s secrets for the end of the novel and that creates another layer of tension as the time is whiled away and yet there are still so many things left unanswered. Once we get to the pivotal moments that still affect Margot to this day, it’s so painful and distressing. The family have always put her behaviour before she left home down to the family upheaval, but there is so much more than that and we really understand why she becomes the woman she is now. The shock of this is compounded by another event, this time in the present.
Margot changed deeply. What happens starts a long held resentment towards the family and her estrangement from her sisters, but also begins a cycle of self loathing and destruction. It’s not just the pain of the incident itself, it’s the fact that no one noticed. No one delves deeper or offers to help, and in these circumstances the family member turns their anger inward – how can someone develop self-worth when they’re so overlooked? Any attempt to help would now be too late and suddenly Margot’s actions make more sense. I shed tears for Margot, but also felt very deeply for Lucy. There are many dysfunctional family novels out there, but I felt that the author was psychologically astute and insightful. The characters are so well drawn and I felt completely swept away with their story and how this homecoming feels for them. My parents moved out of our childhood home a few years ago and it was strangely painful. I still haven’t been able to go back because it would feel odd to see strangers playing in the garden, where so much family drama played out. I would feel like a ghost, haunting the place I couldn’t leave behind. Where we grow up has seen so much; the full ebb and flow of family life. The energy of these events is somehow imprinted on the atmosphere like an emotional photograph. Sometimes, we have to to go back and confront these events, before we can truly understand them, to process them as a family and finally move forward with some sense of healing and acceptance.