Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
I loved last year’s Secrets of the Sea House by Elisabeth Gifford, describing it as “haunting and satisfying read”, so I was excited when this book landed on my desk. Books about long-buried secrets and mysteries are my favourite. Here’s the blurb:
One house. Two families. A lifetime of secrets. At Fourwinds they gather: Alice and Ralph, Patricia and Peter, to celebrate the marriage of their children. The marquee is on the lawn, breathing in and out in the summer heat. But the bride is nowhere to be seen. As both families are drawn together, the past floods through the corridors of the old house. What secret has Ralph been keeping from his wife? What is it about Alice’s wartime encounter with Peter that has haunted her ever since? And what could have caused Sarah to vanish without a word to any of the people she loves? Moving from the orange groves of Valencia and the spacious houses of the British countryside to the post-war slums in the north, Return to Fourwinds is a sweeping, lyrical story of the things we tell and the things we keep to ourselves. Is Sarah’s disappearance a culmination of the pressures that have kept the two families apart? Or can they work together to bring her back to Fourwinds?
Keeping secrets is bound to affect relationships, as all of the main characters demonstrate in some way or another in Return to Fourwinds. Some hide behind a mask, others become distant, but either way, the secrets are strong enough to tear relationships apart. The story weaves in themes of identity, loss and love as the characters come to terms with secrets discovered or hidden – in one case, a marriage is put on hold when something triggers a memory in the bride-to-be.; in another, a man comes to term with his parentage late in life, and has to deal with regrets, anger and loss while his wife wonders what is pulling him away. The house, Fourwinds, serves as a catalyst for the issues coming to the fore, rather than being a “character” in itself, which disappointed me a little. From the blurb and cover image, I expected the house to be the keeper of secrets.
Overall, I liked this book but didn’t love it. It didn’t have the same emotional hold on me that Secrets of the Sea House did, and had a more disjointed feel. There was a lot going on. The historical aspects, particularly the focus on wartime evacuees and the dangerous undercover work in Spain, stood out the most for me, and of all the stories, Ralph’s was the one I felt the most emotionally invested in.
Available from Allen & Unwin. My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.