Told with a dual timeline- we see Skylark Farm both in its wartime heyday- where there was no work more important. Young evacuees Will and Alice are finding their feet and their place alongside their surrogate family's daughter, Maggie, in this world that is so different to the one they are used to. This is interwoven with the modern-day timeline 70 years later, where the farm is in trouble, and Maggie, her daughter and grandson are keeping hold of the farm by the very tips of their fingers. With the arrival of Lucy, Maggie’s granddaughter, and a new visitor to the farm’s holiday cottages, the past and present are set on a collision course where the secrets of the past are set to finally come to light.
Sarah Vaughn is an incredibly clever writer, and the constant dance between past and present is
Cornwall played one of the main characters in the novel. When discovered and explored through the eyes of the young refugees Alice and Will, its beauty and the everyday wonders and horrors of farming life stood out in stark relief. I love a story where its situation is intrinsic to the plot and the story- where it couldn’t exist in the same way anywhere else- and this has to be one of the strongest examples I’ve come across.
There was so much depth and emotion in the writing that at times I found it hard to take, and resorted reading short passages before taking a break to digest it. It was raw, bleak and incredibly beautiful. There is a sparkling, young love story at the heart of the novel- but it was one that had me in tears- and then, to be honest, beyond tears – you know, in one of those moments where you’re sat paralysed, hand to your own throat as if you’re holding the emotion in somehow?
See, I told you I wouldn’t be able to do this book justice. My reaction Sarah Vaughan’s powerful, poetic writing was on a physical level. Maybe I should have filmed myself reading it instead- but then, that’s not a mess I’d want anyone to witness. All I can say is that I couldn’t recommend this intensely emotional, beautiful book more.
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1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer's daughter, Maggie, and against shimmering barley fields and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war.
But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates out of all proportion. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to make amends - but has she left it too late?
2014, and Maggie's granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn't wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?
This is a novel about identity and belonging; guilt and atonement; the unrealistic expectations placed on children and the pain of coming of age. It's about small lies and dark secrets; and how the need to love and be loved endures. But above all it's about a beautiful, desolate, complex place.