Book review: The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley

What’s the best part of a jigsaw puzzle – slowly building up the picture or slotting in that last, satisfying piece?

Lucinda Riley’s haunting and engrossing new novel has all the essential ingredients that turn an enigma into a magical mystery tour.

A powerful and emotional story of families and friendship, love and loss, hardship and hope, The Girl on the Cliff is destined to be THE must-read this autumn and winter.

Riley’s debut book, the sensationally successful Hothouse Flower, was always going to be a hard act to follow but, against all the odds, her second outing as an author could well earn her even more accolades.

Superb characterisation, atmospheric locations and a well-paced narrative keep the pages turning and the imagination in thrall.

Set against the drama of two world wars and with a sweeping storyline that moves from the wild and wonderful west coast of Ireland to the smart end of London through to Switzerland and Manhattan, this multi-layered epic will move you to tears whilst renewing your faith in humanity.

Riley takes up her favourite theme of a modern woman contextualising her life by opening up secrets from the past and learning the value of family, trust and honesty.

Heartbroken by a recent loss, successful sculptor Grania Ryan has left her boyfriend in New York and returned to the arms of her loving family near Cork in Ireland.

And it is here, on a cliff edge, that she first meets a vulnerable, wraith-like girl, eight-year-old Aurora Devonshire, who will profoundly change her life.

Mysteriously drawn to Aurora, who lives with her widower father Alexander at the rather grand but cheerless Dunworley House, Grania discovers that the histories of their families are strangely and deeply entwined.

Aurora’s dead mother Lily was a Lisle, a family which has spelt bad luck and unhappiness for the Ryans for nearly 100 years and caused a bitter feud that still resonates for Grania’s mother Kathleen.

Grania agrees to look after lonely Aurora whilst her father is away and slowly, with the help of her mother, she learns about the lies, sacrifices and tragedies that have caused a rift between the Ryans and the Lisles.

From a bittersweet romance in wartime London to forgotten memories of a lost brother, Grania gradually starts to unlock the chains of the past but it will be Aurora’s intuition and remarkable spirit that break the spell and give new hope for the future.

Riley is an expert at weaving together the various strands of her story into one perfect whole. Each generation bears witness to life-changing events and it is up to the newest to put right wrongs and become the catalyst for change.

Perceptive, warm and exquisitely wrought, The Girl on the Cliff is another triumph for a talented author.

(Penguin, paperback, £7.99)