BLURB: “Thirty years have passed since Greta left Marchmont Hall, a grand and beautiful house nestled in the hills of rural Monmouthshire. But when she returns to the Hall for Christmas, at the invitation of her old friend David Marchmont, she has no recollection of her past association with it – the result of a dreadful accident that has blanked out more than two decades of her life. Then, during a walk through the wintry landscape, she stumbles across a grave in the woods, and the weathered inscription on the headstone tells her that a little boy is buried there. With David’s help, Greta embarks on a quest to rediscover her lost memories, and begins to piece together the fragments of not only her own story, but also that of her daughter, Cheska, the tragic victim of circumstances beyond her control. And, most definitely, not the angel she appeared to be…”
REVIEW: This is an absolutely amazing book, and one of the things that makes it so amazing is the many plot twists and shocks that unfold as Greta begins to uncover memories of her past; because of this, it is very difficult to review the book without spoliers, so if you like the sound of this novel from reading the blurb (which you should do!) then I suggest you proceed with caution when reading this review, as there will be SPOILERS.
The novel opens with Greta’s return to Marchmont Hall and her dramatic discovery of the grave of a young boy within the grounds of this stately home. As we are taken back into Greta’s past, we discover that this dead child was her son, Jonny, an illegitimate child who was to be passed off as the heir of the Marchmont estate (rather than the bastard of an American GI) as Greta had married Owen Marchmont, seeking peace and security for her and her child. Although Jonny tragically died, however – and this is written in a beautiful, touching and moving style that really gets to the reader – he also had a twin sister, Cheska, who survives to become Greta’s pride and joy. Running away from a grief stricken and increasingly dangerous Owen, Greta and her daughter find themselves in London, where, with the help of Greta’s dearest friend David, Cheska is soon turned into a child movie star. This is the turning point in the novel, the moment when we begin to slowly discover that Cheska – the angel child, the apple of her mother’s eye – is not all she seemed. Mentally disturbed by her brother’s death as a child, Cheska’s behaviour becomes increasingly erratic and disturbing as the novel goes on, and worsens drastically after an affair with charming (but married) singer Bobby Cross leaves her pregnant and alone. The rest of the novel, encompassing both Greta’s past and present, is marred by Cheska’s rapid mental decline and wild behaviour which, although stabilised after Greta’s accident when she leaves England to become a Hollywood success, begins to escalate upon her return to England, when she discovers a daughter that wants nothing to do with her and a mother who cannot remember her. I can’t say much more without giving away some of the bigger twists of the novel, but suffice to say this book will have you gripped from beginning to end, never quite sure of what could happen next. Although Cheska’s mental instability makes for gripping and dramatic reading, it is also written about with sensitivity; Riley has clearly taken a great deal of time to research mental illness and the ways in which it can impact both the suffering individual and those around them, although admittedly Cheska’s case is extreme. I was hooked by this book the whole way through and would certainly read it again, even though I now know all of the plot twists! I would very highly recommend it.