With the summer holidays upon us already I thought I’d flag up some great holiday reads on Throwback Thursday. I often pick up books about Cornwall as it is a favourite haunt of mine, somewhere I love to go in the summer. It’s a romantic, beautiful setting, but it’s history of struggle between the haves and have nots goes back through the centuries. This tension between Cornwall’s local population and it’s wealthy visitor is just as highly charged today and still resonates through the pages of this book set largely in the 1980s.
Tamsyn is as local as it gets. Her grandfather worked the tin mines, her father was a lifeboat volunteer alongside his work, but her brother is struggling to find work that’s not seasonal. Tamsyn’s attachment to The Cliff House to a beautiful coastal property just outside her village comes to a head in the summer of 1986. To her, the house represents an escape, a lifestyle that’s completely out of range for her and represents the perfect life. It’s also her last link to her father, who brought her here to swim in the pool when he knew the owners were away. Her father felt rules were made to be broken and they both considered it madness to own such a slice of perfection overlooking the sea yet rarely visit except for a few weeks in the summer. Now he’s gone, Tamsyn watches the Cliff House alone and views it’s owners, the Davenports, as the height of sophistication. Their life is a world away from her cramped cottage, her Granfer’s coughing into red spattered handkerchiefs and their constant struggle for money.
Tamsyn’s family are firmly have nots. Her hero father died rescuing a drowning child and now she has to watch her mother’s burgeoning friendship with the man who owns the chip shop. Her brother is unable to find steady work, but finds odd jobs and shifts where he can, to put his contribution under the kettle in the kitchen. Mum works at the chip shop, but is also the Davenport’s cleaner. She keeps their key in the kitchen drawer, but every so often Tamsyn steals it and let’s herself in to admire Eleanor Davenport’s clothing and face creams and Max’s study with a view of the sea. Yet, the family’s real lives are only a figment of her imagination until she meets Edie.
Edie Davenport is a disaffected teenager with heavy eye make-up, black clothing and a love of The Cure. The two girls hit it off after bumping into each other on the cliff and Tamsyn learns that Edie has been expelled from her exclusive girl’s school. She has a spiky relationship with her Mum and as readers we can see why, but Tamsyn seems oblivious to the problems of the family; a family that the reader can see is already disintegrating. Max hides away writing and is accused of having multiple affairs by his wife. Eleanor is an alcoholic, on medication for depression and seemingly paranoid about her husband’s behaviour. As the summer goes on, their relationships worsen and we get a sense that the Davenports are the worst kind of rich people; to quote from The Great Gatsby, they are people who are careless of the lives of others. The summer party shows the couple at their decadent worst and it is fitting that the final acts of the novel occur surrounded by the detritus of that night.
Tamsyn wishes her mum were more like Eleanor at times. She thinks Eleanor is so kind by helping with her make-up, painting her nails and even letting her borrow her clothes, but these are easy gestures when money isn’t an issue. We can we that Eleanor never sees Tamsyn as an equal to her own daughter. The scene where Tamsyn realises that she hasn’t been invited to the Davenport’s party, but is instead expected to work in the kitchen, is particularly painful. I found myself very drawn in with Tamsyn’s narrative – possibly because I was an awkward teenager from a poor background at a school full of middle class kids. I longed to have the things they did, the fashionable school shoes and bags instead of the clunky, unattractive ones that were built to last. However, was this familiarity and empathy for her emotional state, blinding me to the faults in her character. It’s clear she’s becoming obsessed with the house and family, but could I be underestimating just how attached she is to a home she could never own. As Edie meets Tamsyn’s brother Jago and another family member falls under the Davenport’s spell, Tamsyn’s jealousy becomes obvious. Is she jealous that he’s taking Edie from her, or is Edie taking up the time she might have spent with her brother? There is a creeping sense that from here, these entangled lives and simmering tensions will reach a crescendo – rather like Jago points out, the seventh wave is always the largest and comes crashing towards the cliff, drowning the rocks down below.
The crescendo is certainly explosive and in the quiet aftermath, true characters and motivations are revealed. Some characters surprised me completely, and I found myself wanting to read their sections again. Would they read differently now I knew the truth and the eventual outcome? I think the author was very cleverly keeping some characters deliberately understated, leaving the more volatile and explosive characters driving the surface narrative. I was left with questions around how we feel and act once we get what we’ve always wanted? Do we bask in the glory and celebration of the win, or are we left haunted by what we chose to do in order to succeed? Is our victory the fulfilment we’ve been chasing or is it largely empty? Ultimately, as a reader, it made me think about the trust we place in the narrators of a story and how effective it can be when we find out our trust in some characters was completely misplaced.
Published by HQ 7th May 2018
Meet the Author
On her Amazon author page, Amanda Jennings says she loves anything with a dark vein and secrets which affect families. Her books tend to fall into the psychological suspense category. Her books, The Storm, In Her Wake and The Cliff House are all set in Cornwall: Newlyn, St Ives, and Sennen respectively. Her mother’s side of the family is from Penzance and she has strong memories of long summers spent there as a child. She is happiest when beside the sea, but is also fond of a mountain, especially when it’s got snow on it. When she’s not beside the sea or up a mountain, she’s sitting at her desk, you can usually hear her chatting on the radio as a regular guest on BBC Berkshire’s weekly Book Club, or loitering on Twitter (@mandajjennings), Facebook and Instagram (@amandajennings1). She loves meeting with and engaging with readers, whether that’s on social media, or at libraries, book clubs and literary festivals. You can find more information on her webpage: http://www.amandajennings.co.uk