Title: The Beloved Girls
Author: Harriet Evans
Publication Date: 19th August 2021
BY SUMMER’S END, THERE WILL BE ONLY ONE . . .
‘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. And she and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present . . .
The first thing that drew my attention with The Beloved Girls is the absolutely stunning cover! Happily, I can confirm the book inside is just as gorgeously compelling. The story follows Catherine, a barrister who disappears on the eve of her anniversary. Catherine’s past is overshadowed by a dark secret memory which concerns a strange ceremony her family performed every summer that years ago led to tragedy. The narrative is split between three settings: that fateful summer of 1989, Catherine in 2018 and also back to Catherine’s mother’s youth. Gradually, the secrets of Vanes, the grand manor home of Catherine’s childhood are revealed.
The most striking thing, for me, about The Beloved Girls is the mood it creates. The writing is mesmerising and beautiful whilst simultaneously managing to feel deeply unsettling. The setting is also brilliantly evocative. Sweeping and grand stately homes are always an ideal location for a dark family mystery and the slightly sinister Vanes is no exception. I was completely entranced by the ritualistic ceremony which the Hunter family partakes in. Its power lies in the unnerving feelings it seems to generate in the characters and I had to keep reading to find out more. Catherine is one of those narrators whose voice is enigmatic in a sense. It is difficult to know what is real and what is imagined in her traumatised mind. It makes for an intense and fascinating read. The Beloved Girls is atmospheric, compelling and immersive. I would absolutely recommend to anyone who loves stories of sinister family secrets and questions on the nature of memory.
Thank you so much to Anne Cater of Random Things Blog Tours for inviting me on this tour and organising it. I kindly received a copy of the book from the publisher. My review is entirely my own honest opinion.