A lonely novelist, a devoted fan, a journal that speaks of unspeakable things…
Author Vida Tremayne lies silent in a hospital bed. The forces which brought about her terrifying decline are shrouded in mystery. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter Dory is forced to abandon her fast paced city life to be by her mother’s bedside. Dory is resentful. She hates the country and she and her mother were never exactly close.
Luckily Vida already has a carer, the enigmatic Rhiannon Townsend. A long-standing fan of Vida’s, Rhiannon is happy to take care of the bedside vigil. Dory is free to resume her life. Or is she?
Then she discovers her mother’s journal. Vida’s chilling testament reveals the trigger for her spiralling into madness. It also reveals the danger that still lurks close by. A danger that will call on Dory’s every reserve of courage if she’s to free her mother, and maybe in doing so, to free herself.
It never ceases to mystify me why some books hit the shelves amid loud blasts of trumpets and advance reviews, while others – although well supported by their publishers – tend to trickle out rather more quietly. I think it’s sometimes simply down to the fact that there are some books that just don’t fit neatly into the “next Gone Girl” profile – or indeed “the next anything” profile. This is one of those books – downloaded to my kindle during a pre-Christmas promotion, promoted to my reading list after a chance encounter on Twitter with its author Sarah Vincent – and it finally seems to be attracting the attention it deserves through the power of word-of-mouth.
The Testament of Vida Tremayne was published in November 2014 by Three Hares Publishing. I was totally enthralled by it, unable to put it down until I reached the satisfying final pages. I’m not the first to discover it, by any means – having written my review I found (among others) the excellent one written by Jackie Law on her excellent blog NeverImitate (you’ll find it here), together with an great article from the author and a feature on Three Hares Publishing. Rather than cover the same ground, Sarah has written a rather lovely and very different guest post that I’ll share with you tomorrow. Today, I’ll simply share my review.
The novel opens with Dory’s arrival at her mother Vida’s home on the Shropshire-Welsh border to sort out her affairs. Her mother, a novelist struggling to follow up her earlier success with The Gingerbread House, has suffered an apparent breakdown and is unable to communicate – although the two women have had problems communicating for many years. Dory is surprised to find another woman living in the house – Rhiannon, a friend about whom she had heard nothing previously, well settled-in and apparently helping and supporting her mother. So begins a mesmerising story, beautifully constructed with past events revealed through Vida’s diaries, current events seen through Dory’s eyes – a tale of frustration, loneliness, vulnerability and dependency, with three magnificently drawn female characters at its core.
Dory is a wonderful portrait of the selfish, driven, self-sufficient and abrasive modern business woman – she seems to struggle with her every relationship. Her sharp edginess makes her initially totally unsympathetic – but more about the background, competing for attention with her mother’s writing, helps reveal her softer edges. Vida is simply fascinating – her diary works perfectly to reveal her character, to understand her thoughts and feelings, to find out more about how the current situation has come about.
And then we have Rhiannon – vividly drawn, mesmerising from the moment she appears. It’s quite impossible to tear your eyes away from her, as you try to figure out exactly what part she plays – devoted fan, supportive and loyal friend, angel of kindness, master manipulator, personification of evil, or something totally other as she shows her many different faces to both Dory and Vida.
I think it’s fair – although you know I hate labels – to call this wonderful book a psychological thriller, but it’s unlike any I’ve read before. There are elements of magic and the mystical, and the surrounding natural world, described in great detail, plays a major part. But there’s also a lovely gentle humour – Vida’s brushes with the publishing world are quite exquisitely observed, peopled with perfect caricatures of individuals within that world who will be familiar to everyone, and very funny. The way the story is constructed is simply perfect – the slow reveal of Vida’s diary punctuating Dory’s present day sorting-things-out so that she can return to her London life. There’s real emotional depth too, particularly around the difficult mother and daughter relationship – and it tears at your heart at times.
Above all, it’s an enthralling story of three strong and powerful women, struggling for supremacy, taking turns in the spotlight – and it really is quite impossible to put down and get on with your life until you’ve finished reading. And when I wasn’t reading, it was constantly in my thoughts – and remained there long after I reached the end. There are times that it’s good to be reminded that there are treasures to be found outside the bestseller lists or the latest big thing – I’m so glad I discovered this one.
My e-copy of The Testament of Vida Tremayne was my own, purchased from Amazon.
Sarah Vincent has two grown up children and lives in the South Shropshire countryside with her husband and her Jack Russell terrier, Beryl. She writes in a converted coal-shed at the back of the house.
In the early days she juggled writing with various jobs, most of which she was hopeless at. These included a stint as a Tourist Information Assistant where she got into trouble for giving people the wrong bus and train information and sending them off on mystery tours!
For the past 12 years she has worked as an editor for two leading Literary Consultancies and loves helping other writers to achieve their goals.
Follow Sarah on Twitter: she also has an excellent website where you can find out more about the author and her work.