I’ve always been a massive fan of Rachel Hore’s books – her style is immensely readable, and the dual time aspect of all her books is always something I enjoy. I first discovered her writing with lovely The Memory Garden, and I loved almost all the others too – The Glass Painter’s Daughter, The Dream House and A Place of Secrets (my favourite I think, a five star review on Goodreads). Something went slightly awry for me (sorry Rachel!) with A Gathering Storm, but I think the problem was partly mine: I often have a problem with any books dealing with the French resistance, and I was equally ambivalent about The Girl You Left Behind by another of my favourite authors, JoJo Moyes. Fortunately others didn’t agree, and A Gathering Storm was shortlisted for the RNA Historical Novel of the Year in 2012.
I approached this one with a little trepidation – was it going to be one I’d love or not? I’m thrilled to say that I thought it was quite wonderful – and I’ve been telling everyone about it, as my Twitter followers will have noticed!
When Emily Gordon, editor at a London publishing house, commissions an account of great English novelist Hugh Morton, she finds herself steering a tricky path between Morton’s formidable widow, Jacqueline, who’s determined to protect his secrets, and the biographer, charming and ambitious Joel Richards. But someone is sending Emily mysterious missives about Hugh Morton’s past and she discovers a buried story that simply has to be told…
One winter’s day in 1948, nineteen year old Isabel Barber arrives at her Aunt Penelope’s house in Earl’s Court having run away from home to follow her star. A chance meeting with an East European refugee poet leads to a job with his publisher, McKinnon & Holt, and a fascinating career beckons. But when she develops a close editorial relationship with charismatic young debut novelist Hugh Morton and the professional becomes passionately personal, not only are all her plans put to flight, but she finds herself in a struggle for her very survival.
Rachel Hore’s intriguing and suspenseful new novel magnificently evokes the milieux of London publishing past and present and connects the very different worlds of two young women, Emily and Isabel, who through their individual quests for truth, love and happiness become inextricably linked.
I found this book absolutely mesmerising from beginning to end, an absolute page turner with none of that wrenching from historical (late 1940s/50s) to present day story that you sometimes get, perfectly paced, with engaging female heroines and a strong supporting cast. Hugh’s mother Lavinia is a real tour-de-force, and I also really enjoyed the publisher Stephen McKinnon, exotic Aunt Penelope and the manipulative Jacqueline. I loved the setting of the world of writers and publishing – a book about the world of books is always a sure-fire winner for me, and this one was so cleverly done with the clues being left for Emily in the present day while the reader gains more of the story by following Isabel and Hugh’s story. The background – the publishing world, the North Sea flood of 1953, the Suffolk settings – all seem meticulously researched. The social issues of the historical story are really well done too – the expectation that marriage meant the end of a woman’s working life, the challenges faced by those who don’t conform to the norm.
If you’re a lover of Susanna Kearsley, Barbara Erskine, Kate Morton – or have enjoyed any of Rachel Hore’s other books – I guarantee you’ll love this one. And I’m so relieved that the author is firmly back where she belongs in my personal top ten!
The Kindle version of this book was 99p for one day this week – I told as many people as I could! At the time of writing it’s still only £2.99, and I’d say it’s worth every penny. It’s also available in hardcover and paperback. My copy was a gift from Karen at A Reading Corner – read her excellent review here.
Rachel Hore worked in London publishing for many years before moving with her family to Norwich, where she teaches publishing at UEA. She is married to writer D. J. Taylor and they have three sons. Visit Rachel at her website, or follow her on Twitter.