Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for finding me a place on the tour and to Headline for my digital copy via NetGalley.
About the Book
‘It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. Half-derelict. The Hunters keep bees in there. Every year, on the same day, the family processes to the chapel. They open the combs, taste the honey. Take it back to the house. Half for them –‘ my father winced, as though he had bitten down on a sore tooth. ‘And half for us.’
Catherine, a successful barrister, vanishes from a train station on the eve of her anniversary. Is it because she saw a figure – someone she believed long dead? Or was it a shadow cast by her troubled, fractured mind?
The answer lies buried in the past. It lies in the events of the hot, seismic summer of 1989, at Vanes – a mysterious West Country manor house – where a young girl, Jane Lestrange, arrives to stay with the gilded, grand Hunter family, and where a devastating tragedy will unfold. Over the summer, as an ancient family ritual looms closer, Janey falls for each member of the family in turn. She and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present..
‘We need the bees to survive, and they need us to survive. Once you understand that, you understand the history of Vanes, you understand our family.‘
Format: eARC (448 pages) Publisher: Headline
Publication date: 19th August 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, Mystery
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Opening in 2018 and then going back in time to 1989 and 1959, before returning in reverse to 2018, The Beloved Girls has a cast of damaged individuals; the male characters, with a few exceptions, are particularly unpleasant.
Janey is struggling to manage her grief following a traumatic event that came out of the blue, and is in search of somewhere she feels she can belong. She thinks she has found that at Vanes, the country house of the Hunter family that she once visited as a child.
Ah yes, the Hunter family. I have to say they’re not a group of people I’d be keen to spend time with, much less be a member of. The creation of this dysfunctional family and the sense of menace, of suppressed rage and discontent that threatens to spill over into violence, was probably the strongest part of the book for me.
Charles Hunter, referred to as pater familias by his children, is irascible, petty and often cruel towards those around him. He is in thrall to his family’s history and the traditions associated with it, especially the annual ritual known as The Collecting. His wife, Sylvia, is a talented designer whose time has been diverted to running the household in accordance with the whims of her husband, and to protecting her children – the twins Kitty and Joss, and Melissa (known as Merry) their younger sister – from the malign influences that seem to hover around them. The sense of unease is heightened by the presence of the bees, housed in an old, rundown chapel, whose humming is a constant backdrop to life at Vanes.
For me, the chapters set in 2018 felt very different in tone from those of the earlier timelines. The run-up to Catherine’s disappearance conforms to everything you might expect from a modern day thriller. On the other hand, the sections set in 1989 had a rather timeless quality despite the frequent references to 1980s music. Part three of the book, set in 1959, filled in the back stories of key characters but for others represented their sole appearance.
I wasn’t quite sure how the author would manage to bring together the three timelines to form a coherent whole but I think this was largely achieved, although for the observant reader the direction the story will take won’t be a great surprise. On the other hand, the book leaves a few unanswered questions for readers to ponder.
At just under 450 pages, The Beloved Girls represents quite an investment in reading time but will reward the reader who is prepared for a slow increase in tension and is happy to inhabit the strange, unsettling world the author has created.
In three words: Chilling, unsettling, atmospheric
Try something similar: The Glass House by Eve Chase
About the Author
Harriet Evans is the author of several top ten bestsellers including the Sunday
Times bestselling The Garden of Lost and Found and Richard and Judy bookclub selection The Wildflowers. She used to work in publishing and now writes full time, when she is not being distracted by her children, other books, sewing projects, puzzles, gardening, and her much-loved collection of jumpsuits. Last year, she and her family moved from London to Bath