The Hidden Years by Rachel Hore: a feast of passion, heartache, drama and intrigue – book review -
Author of twelve bestselling novels, Rachel Hore has become one of the reigning queens of time-slip, penning gorgeous, escapist novels that weave seamlessly between different time frames and captivating landscapes, and feature stories that take in topics as diverse as glass painting and horticulture.
In The Hidden Years, she introduces us to two young women... one enjoying a bohemian love affair in the heady Cornish summer of 1966, and the other experiencing the first, nervous months of the Second World War as stand-in matron at a boys’ school near Falmouth.
Separated by a time lapse of twenty-seven years, their live stories start to converge at Silverwood, a huge, ‘broad-shouldered’ house on the Helford Estuary, built from glittering Cornish granite, and standing proudly ‘in the middle of nowhere.’
Nineteen-year-old Belle Johnson had been ecstatic when she won a university place to study English but a year later, her life looks very different and she is only too willing to miss taking her final end-of-year exam.
Only days before, she had met and fallen head-over-heels in love with talented band musician Gray Robinson, the blond, tanned, laid-back Adonis who looks at her with his ‘lazy smile’ and sings of Silverwood, ‘a place of freedom by the river that runs to the sea.’
Drawn by a mysterious memory connected to the name of Silverwood, Belle is persuaded by Gray to travel with him to Cornwall where Silverwood turns out to be a magnificent but rundown old house, sitting in tranquil splendour on the coast and home to an artistic community.
The thought of spending a carefree summer with Gray appeals to Belle, partly because her middle class family life with her mother, father and sister has always left her feeling lost and unsettled. But Belle is also determined to discover why the name Silverwood sounds so familiar and what its connection is to a photo of her as a baby, taken on a nearby beach.
Many years earlier, in September of 1939, 20-year-old Imogen Lockhart is working for an organisation called Mother’s Little Helpers and leaves London on the Riviera Express train to Cornwall with two young boys on a mission to evacuate them from their city prep school to their new makeshift school at Silverwood House.
Still battling to forget the heartache caused by her recent boyfriend, Imogen jumps at the chance to stand in for the school’s matron who has been taken ill and finds it difficult to believe a war is on in these peaceful surroundings.
As she settles in at Silverwood, she finds herself drawn to the school’s deputy head, Oliver Dalton, a tall, handsome man with a reserved air and known as a loner among the staff. Despite being intrigued by his ‘air of enigma,’ Imogen is wary of being hurt again and decides to leave the school and train as a student nurse in Truro, believing that her life is now going to take a very different direction...
Fast forward through the years and lost soul Belle begins to learn the truth about secrets from the past... the hidden truths that will not just solve a mystery but also help her to decide about the person she wants to be.
Hore tugs at our heartstrings with this feast of passion, heartache, drama and intrigue, set against a rich and alluring Cornish backdrop full of authentic historical and social detail, and with a mystery-laden plot that winds its way between the two very different timelines.
Although Belle and Imogen’s lives at Silverwood are separated by almost three decades, each exists within an exquisitely created sense of time and place which allows the unfolding of secrets to gather momentum as the past catches up with the future, and the truth emerges.
With powerful emotions pulsing through the lives of both women, a delicious twist to the tale, a stark reminder of the psychological impact and legacies of war on those who left home to fight on the battlefronts, and a bittersweet dénouement, The Hidden Years is the perfect reading companion for autumn nights.
(Simon & Schuster, hardback, £16.99)