Larkswood by Valerie Mendes

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RATING: 3/5

BLURB: “Larkswood House is home to the Hamilton children – Edward, Cynthia and Harriet – who enjoy the freedom and excitement of privilege. But in the glorious summer of 1896, with absent parents and a departed governess, disaster strikes the family, leaving it cruelly divided. More than forty years later, on the eve of the Second World War, Louisa Hamilton is sent to Larkswood to recuperate from glandular fever. There she meets her grandfather, Edward, home after decades in India. But as Louisa begins to fall under the spell of Larkswood, she realises it holds the key to the mystery that shattered her family two generations before. Will she find the courage to unravel the dark secrets of the past? And can Larkswood ever become home to happiness again?”

REVIEW: Any long-term followers of this blog will know that I particularly enjoy this style of novel, which combines history with deep family secrets and new romances, and I did thoroughly enjoy this one. The novel flits between the year of 1896, and the year of 1939, and tells two different stories of family strife that combine together at the end of the novel to reveal a shocking secret. In the 1896 chapters we are introduced to the three Hamilton siblings – Edward, Cynthia and Harriet. The story is told from the point of view of Harriet, the youngest sibling, who feels overshadowed by her glamorous elder sister and adores and admires her elder brother. All three siblings are hurt by the indifference and disdain that their parents feel towards them, and have learnt well enough to only rely on each other. This is why, when their parents go travelling abroad and Cynthia reveals that she is pregnant, the siblings must work together in order to keep Cynthia’s condition a secret and find a workable solution for a situation that will forever ruin her reputation. The father of the child remains unknown, and although the reader is led to suspect many different characters, when the father is revealed it proves a great shock both to the reader and to the character of Louisa Hamilton, who uncovers the identity of the father in the 1939 section. Louisa narrates these sections and is much like Harriet, overshadowed by her older sister Millicent and desperate to avoid the high-society life of balls and courtship. Upon retiring to Larkswood to recover from a bout of glandular fever, Louisa begins to not only build up a loving and affectionate relationship with her isolated grandfather, the Edward of the 1896 section, but also to discover who she really is and forge her own identity away from the societal expectations of her mother and sister. Louisa also finds love in the form of young gardener Thomas Saunders, and a mission in trying to find out the story of what happened to her grandfather’s beloved sisters, whom he believes to have died of Scarlet fever many years previously. As the barriers between past and present begin to unravel, Louisa uncovers secrets she could never have anticipated, and realises that she is the only hope they have of saving and reuniting the Hamilton family. Although parts of the writing can sometimes seem rushed and abrupt, particularly during Edward’s narrative (though this may have been done deliberately, of course), this book is gripping, engaging and offers a brilliant twist near the end that both scandalises and fascinates the reader. I would recommend this novel.

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