From Daphne du Maurier to Mary Wesley, Cornwall has been the setting for some of fiction's most heated melodramas. Harriet Evans, a former publishing executive turned novelist, has also taken the Cornish coast as the backdrop for her third novel, a family saga about unsuitable desires and cliff-top wobbles.
As the novel opens, Natasha Kapoor, its appealingly neurotic narrator, finds herself cast adrift. Travelling to Penzance to attend a family funeral, she's not only in mourning for her grandmother, the respected painter, Frances Seymour, but has recently been left by her husband. She's also having second thoughts about her career.
Arriving at Summercove, her grandparents' headland home, she finds herself plunged into the heart of her artistic and exotic family. As ever, her stunningly beautiful mother, Miranda, is self-absorbed and remote, while her wheelchair-bound Indian grandfather, Arvind, cracks inappropriate witticisms at waist level. Just as Natasha leaves to catch the sleeper back to London, her grandfather entrusts her with a package. It's the diaries of her aunt Cecily, whose tragic death at the age of 15 still haunts the family a generation on.
Alternating between the long hot summer of 1963 and the present day, the novel follows Natasha as she tries to get her own life back on track, while also coming to forgive the behaviour of her decidedly un-maternal mother. It's the Sixties section of the novel, as related in Cecily's teen diary, that marks Evans out as a writer of top-drawer popular fiction. This sunny coming-of-age drama darkens at every turn.
Alongside the latest bulletins from the Profumo Affair, Cecily's diary records the arrival of her older cousins at Summercove and cricket-mad brothers, Guy and Frank Leighton. As the afternoon temperatures soar and the lavender-scented nights grow yet more languid, Cecily is a witness to some disturbingly grown-up behaviour. It's while negotiating the slippery path towards adulthood that she quite literally loses her footing.
Back in present-day London, the novel covers more conventional territory. Natasha must get over her husband and find a new man. While not in the Mary Wesley league, Evans's gift for characterisation and appreciation of complicated family dynamics singles this novel out as superior romantic fare. It's a dose of winter escapism that brings with it the promise of "custard yellow" sands and hot summer sun.Reuse content