The Echo of Twilight by Judith Kinghorn

the-echo-of-twilight It’s 1914 and Pearl Gibson, a young woman in her twenties, is about to take up a new position as lady’s maid. Her new employer, Ottoline Campbell, has estates in Northumberland and Scotland, which means Pearl will have to leave London and move north. She’s prepared to do this, however, because it’s not as if she has much to leave behind – her relationship with her boyfriend, Stanley, already seems to be fizzling out, and she has no other friends or family. Her mother killed herself just after Pearl’s birth and Pearl was raised by a great-aunt who is also now dead.

Spending the summer at Delnasay, the Campbells’ house in the Scottish Highlands, Pearl gradually settles into her new job and her new life. Although the other servants view her as proud and superior at first, she slowly wins them over, and at the same time she starts to form a close friendship with Ottoline. It seems that both Pearl and Ottoline are hiding secrets and as the bond between them strengthens, they begin to confide in each other more and more.

Meanwhile, the trouble which has been brewing in Europe throughout the year has escalated into war and the family return to England, hoping they will be safe at Birling Hall, their other estate in Warkworth, Northumberland. Ottoline’s two sons, Billy and Hugo, both enlist and are soon on their way to France, while Pearl also has someone to pray for: Ralph Stedman, an artist with whom she embarked on a new romance during her time in Scotland and who has also gone to war. All of this takes place just in the first half of the novel; there are plenty of other surprises and revelations to follow as Pearl and Ottoline learn more about each other – and as the war progresses, changing the lives of all of our characters forever.

Pearl, the novel’s narrator, is an interesting and complex character. I was intrigued by her habit of pretending to be other people, introducing herself to strangers as Tess Durbeyfield, Mrs Gaskell and even Ottoline Campbell herself…anybody but Pearl Gibson. I was happy, though, that by the end of the novel we’d had a chance to get to know the real Pearl. Ottoline was also a fascinating character, but I felt that she remained more of an enigma.

The Echo of Twilight is Judith Kinghorn’s fourth novel. I loved her first, The Last Summer, was slightly less impressed by the second, The Memory of Lost Senses, and haven’t yet read her third, The Snow Globe. This one sounded appealing to me as it is set during the same time period as The Last Summer – and although the stories are quite different, the two books do share some similar themes. The impact of war, not just on those who are fighting in it, but also on the people left behind, is an important part of both novels. We see how, with so many young men lost from the British workforce, women had to take on what would previously have been considered ‘jobs for men’, and how, once the war was over, the social structure had changed so much that the running of large estates like Delnasay and Birling tended not to be sustainable.

The Echo of Twilight is an easy read – the sort where the pages seem to fly by effortlessly – and a beautifully written one. Although I wasn’t entirely convinced by the romance at the heart of the novel and didn’t sense a lot of chemistry there, there were enough other aspects that I did like to make up for that. It’s not just a romance; it’s also a lovely, moving story about a young woman trying to find her place in the world.

Thanks to the publisher Canelo for providing a review copy via NetGalley.

The Memory of Lost Senses by Judith Kinghorn

The Memory of Lost Senses The Memory of Lost Senses begins in 1911 in the peaceful country village of Bramley when the Countess Cora de Chevalier de Saint Leger moves into the big house on the hill known as Temple Hill. The countess is a mysterious and secretive person; she’s an elderly woman now but there are hints that she has led an exciting and eventful life.

Two other people have come to spend the summer with Cora at Temple Hill – one is her grandson, Jack, and the other is Sylvia, a novelist who is planning to write Cora’s biography. But despite having been Cora’s friend for many years, Sylvia finds it harder than she expected to get the countess to confide in her. Instead it’s their young neighbour, Cecily Chadwick, who comes closest to discovering the truth about Cora’s past – and in the process she is able to help Jack make sense of his own family history.

Having enjoyed The Last Summer, Judith Kinghorn’s first novel, I was really looking forward to reading this one. When it arrived with its beautiful cover image and promise of a story involving “a house on a hill, a woman with a past, and a lifetime of secrets waiting to be told” I was even more excited.

I was pleased to find that this second book was as beautifully written as her first. Kinghorn is so good at writing about this era and bringing a bygone age back to life. I loved her descriptions of long, hot summer days in the Hampshire village of Bramley and the glimpses we get of the expatriate communities of Paris and Rome where Cora spent much of her life are vividly described too.

And yet I didn’t love this book the way I loved The Last Summer. I think the problem I had was that I found the first half of the book difficult to follow; there was so much moving back and forth in time and I struggled to keep track of the names of Cora’s various husbands and children. I appreciate that the nature of the novel meant that the details of Cora’s past could only be revealed very gradually, but I felt that too much was being kept hidden from the reader for too long and unfortunately this made the story too slow for me.

Although I found The Memory of Lost Senses a bit disappointing in comparison to The Last Summer I still think Judith Kinghorn is a great writer and I’ll be looking out for more books from her in the future.

The Last Summer by Judith Kinghorn

In the summer of 1914, Clarissa Granville is almost seventeen years old and lives at Deyning Park, her family’s country estate. For Clarissa, her brothers and their friends, it’s a summer of parties, tennis games, walking by the lake, playing croquet, and having a good time. It’s also the summer when Clarissa meets Tom Cuthbert, the housekeeper’s son who is home from university. The two soon fall in love but their romance is in trouble from the start, as they both know that Clarissa’s parents will never allow her to marry the son of a servant. Then suddenly everything changes: Britain is at war and Clarissa’s whole world is altered forever.

So many different aspects of World War I are covered over the course of the novel, though with the story being told from Clarissa’s perspective the focus is on the effects of the war on British society and on the people left at home while their loved ones are away fighting. After the war is over we see how the world has become a very different place. We meet men who are trying to cope with the injuries and disabilities they’ve been left with, and the women who are trying to understand and to help them, as well as coming to terms with the loss of all the husbands, brothers, sons and fathers who never came home.

One of the biggest changes to Clarissa’s life is that the class structure that was in place before the war has been broken down. Many rich families like the Granvilles are left struggling financially, unable to afford to keep big houses like Deyning and all the servants they used to have. People who had previously felt secure in their comfortable, privileged lifestyles find themselves desperately trying to find a place in a new and unfamiliar world. But through it all, Clarissa will always remember that final perfect summer of 1914.

Although the story is narrated by Clarissa, we are also given occasional fragments of letters written by unnamed characters. These letters give us a different perspective on things, including some glimpses of life in France during the war, but who is writing them? It’s all revealed eventually and by the time you reach the end of the novel I can almost guarantee you’ll want to go back and read the letters again – they’ll make more sense the second time round.

The Last Summer is a beautifully written novel and one that I really enjoyed. I liked the characters, the time period is one of my favourites to read about, and Clarissa is a lovely, engaging narrator. Clarissa and Tom’s relationship is an interesting one to follow because nothing ever goes smoothly for them and so many obstacles are thrown in the way of their love. Not only are they separated by the war, they also face a lot of other problems including their differences in class and background, Clarissa’s disapproving mother, and their relationships with other people. I desperately wanted them to find happiness together but it was difficult to see how that could ever happen, and I will leave you to discover for yourself whether the book has a happy ending or not.

The Last Summer is my second book for the War Through the Generations reading challenge.