"Penhaligon's Attic" Terri Nixon
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 . . .
Cornwall is always such an excellent place to set a story. We are all so in love with "Poldark" that conjuring up an image of rugged coastline, mystery, romance and drama is easy. Cornwall lends itself beautifully to such storytelling and has been chosen as the location by many many authors including on of my favourites, Daphne Du Maurier. The mystical sounding place names like Caernoweth and the traditional first names and family names of the characters all contribute to the mythological atmosphere, perfect for a good yarn.
The sea is used effectively by Nixon to create tension and excitement. I particularly enjoyed one of the very early scenes with Freya when she is shown how powerful it can be and Nixon establishes the relationship the characters have with their coastline:
"....she had loved the seas all her life. She had admired it, been in awe of its raw power, spoken to it like a friend even, and thanked it for the treasures it had given her. In return it had almost stolen her life. It smashed itself against the rocks behind her, and against the breakwater, expressing its own anger at losing her."
The book is very easy to read, it is very plot driven and sweeps along with as many undulations as it's rolling countryside and with as much drama as its precarious cliffs. There are quite a few characters to keep track of but not too many to make it confusing or over complicated. Nixon has very clearly evoked a strong sense of time and place. Her use of historical detail is subtle enough not to draw attention to itself and thorough enough to leave the reader firmly rooted in the period. The language spoken by the characters is very easy to follow. Again, Nixon has struck a good balance between using enough dialect to remind us where we are and enough informal or historical language to remind us when we are without alienating the reader in any way. It feels authentic.
The prose flows well and the chapters are clearly marked in to different sections with headings that mean the reader is never lost or unsure as to where they are in the plot.
Reading this book is like indulging in your favourite Sunday night costume drama. It is like comfort food for these winter evenings. There are good characters and plenty of familiar themes to satisfy anyone looking for an enjoyable historical drama or anyone who enjoys a good saga.
"Penhaligon's Attic" is published by Piatkus Little, Brown on 1st December 2016.
Terri Nixon was born in Plymouth in 1965. At the age of 9 she moved with her family to Cornwall to the village featured in Daphne Du Maurier's Jamica Inn - North Hill - where she discovered a love of writing that has stayed with her ever since. Her first commercially published novel was "Maid of Oaklands Manor" published by Piatkus in 2013. She has since published two more novels in the Oaklands Manor Trilogy: "A Rose in Flanders Fields" and "Daughter of Dark River Farm".
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