1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer’s daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war.
But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour – but has she left it too late?
2014, and Maggie’s granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn’t wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?
This is a novel about identity and belonging; guilt, regret and atonement; the unrealistic expectations placed on children and the pain of coming of age. It’s about small lies and dark secrets. But above all it’s about a beautiful, desolate, complex place.
Last year, I had the great pleasure of reading and reviewing Sarah Vaughan’s first novel The Art Of Baking Blind: you’ll find my review here. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I’ll admit it – maybe I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as some of my blogger friends. So I was slightly nervous when the author arranged for me to be sent me an advance reading copy of her new novel – The Farm at the Edge of the World, published by Hodder and Stoughton on 30th June in hardback and for kindle – and told me she was looking forward to seeing what I thought. Do you know, I’d almost decided that if I didn’t actually like it, I might not publish my review. Or I might have tell a few white lies. Could I live with myself if I did? But I really needn’t have worried. This book is total perfection – I absolutely loved it.
There are times when you pick up a book and you just know – from the first few pages – that it’s the book for you. From the first glimpse of the farm, seen through the changing seasons, I fell in love. The location is simply wonderful – vividly described, with a rich depth of history. There’s wonderfully strong characterisation all the way throughout this gorgeous book, but they’re all both overshadowed and underpinned by the setting. People come and go, and the farm endures. It’s just perfect.
Then there’s the dual time story. There’s the story of Lucy, in the present day, running from her broken marriage, wondering if she still has a career to return to: at first, the farm becomes her refuge, later it offers her the possibility of a second chance. Then there’s the wartime story – the farm’s family, the evacuated children, the cycle of the seasons and the years, and a series of events that affects lives for so many years to come. I often use the word “aching” in my reviews, but I can’t think of any better way to describe the way I felt about the relationships in this book. The emotional intensity of this story is really exceptional – with characters so strongly and vividly drawn that they take over your life.
And the plotting is simply superb as the author weaves together the strands of the story. Lies and secrets, belonging and not belonging, the pain of growing up, the pain of facing old age with issues unresolved, betrayal, guilt, regret – the threads twist and turn, handled deftly by a totally natural storyteller. The writing is exquisite: open this book at any page, and you’ll find a turn of phrase that takes your breath away. There are scenes in this book that will stay with me for a very long time, for a whole range of reasons – the author’s powers of description are so excellent that they have a cinematic quality as they play themselves through.
This book will be published in paperback on 12th January 2017. I can remember searching bookshops for a copy of Baking Blind so I could photograph it in the wild when released – and really struggling. If there’s any justice in the world, there will be no such issues with this one – I’ll expect to find it there, among the bestsellers, on the top shelf. It was wonderful.
My thanks to Louise Swannell at Hodder and Stoughton, and to author Sarah Vaughan, for my advance reading copy.
Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to be a journalist. After training with the Press Association, she worked for The Guardian for 11 years as a news reporter, health correspondent and political correspondent. She started writing fiction after deciding to freelance. The Art of Baking Blind – published by Hodder (UK and Canada), St Martin’s Press (US) and translated into eight languages – was the result. The Farm at the Edge of the World is her second novel. She lives in Cambridge with her husband and two young children.
Follow Sarah on Twitter and through her Facebook author page: she also has an excellent website.