Although the main characters, Caitlyn and Tommy, are separated by 70 years, the two womens' lives share many commonalities. Both have been widowed at a young age. Both have children who need a mother’s love as the family navigates the trauma of an untimely loss. Both are admired by eligible bachelors who understand the need to proceed gently with their courtship. And both have another woman in their life who seems intent on disrupting their grieving and cutting short any shoots of romance before they get a chance to grow and flourish.
Lulu Taylor’s novel weaves an intriguing thread through dual time-lines with individual stitches drawing the two stories together into a single patchwork of lost love, hope, and betrayal. The misfortunes experienced by the present-day Caitlyn being a mirror of the adversity confronting Tommy who is living through the extreme winter conditions of Oxfordshire in 1947 Britain. Both widows are forced to counter the indomitable influence of the other woman. For Caitlyn that other woman is the seemingly glamorous, successful, and irrepressible Sara. For Tommy, amid the deprivations of post war Britain, it’s the scheming, manipulative, and increasingly antagonistic Barbara. But this is not a simple tale of romance and jealousy, an underlying mystery melds the two widows’ lives together. The backdrop for both stories is Kings Harcourt Manor, the home of an exceedingly valuable Gainsborough portrait of Venetia, a beautify wife who lived in Kings Harcourt Manor in the 18th century, and who was found dead one morning in the main bedroom leaving her husband inconsolable.
All the characters are well-rounded and astutely portrayed. Every reader will surely have had the dubious pleasure of knowing someone with the spitefulness of Sara or the avaricious of Barbara. Indeed, as the plot develops, the depiction of Caitlyn and Tommy, and the struggles they face, is conveyed with a tenderness of detail that is bound to have you fighting their battles alongside them, willing them to overcome their individual plights and to find happiness in the guise of second-chance love.
Unfortunately, for me, in places the prose suffers from sections of dialogue that doesn’t ring true to the ear, and I found the author’s habit of including italicized inner thoughts that simply repeated the sentiments of the narrative’s previous paragraph somewhat tedious. But these indiscretions didn’t significantly detract from my overall enjoyment, they were more of a minor distraction than a ruinous annoyance.
Written devoid of sensationalism, and with a pace that never slackens, this novel uncovers the dark underbelly of human emotions. Keeping its secrets until the denouement, it transforms what would otherwise be a routine romance tale into a story that tugs at the heartstrings from a different, but ultimately uplifting, perspective. It is crafted with a hard realism that betrays a 21st century reincarnation of the guile of Catherine Cookson. If you like the sweetness of your romance dished up with a pinch of sourness, then this is a book you’ll definitely enjoy.