Review – The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

By | September 30, 2013

On a sultry summer’s day in 1980, five friends stumble upon an abandoned lakeside cottage hidden deep in the English countryside. For Kat and her housemates, it offers an escape, a chance to drop out for a while. But as the seasons change, tensions begin to rise and when an unexpected visitor appears at their door, nothing will be the same again.

Three decades later, Lila arrives at the same remote cottage. With her marriage in crisis, she finds solace in renovating the tumbledown house. Little by little she wonders about the previous inhabitants. How did they manage in such isolation? And why did they leave in such a hurry, with their belongings still strewn about? Most disturbing of all, why can’t she shake the feeling that someone might be watching her?

I loved Hannah Richell’s last book, Secrets of the Tides, although I notice I never did get round to writing a review on Goodreads.  I’ll put things right with this one though – which was an equally engrossing and brilliantly constructed book, and a really enjoyable read.

There are two equally strong stories that converge as the book progresses, told in alternating chapters. Back in 1980, the group of young graduates embrace the idea of a year of self sufficiency in a deserted cottage in a beautiful and remote lakeside setting. Everything isn’t perfect – this is a group of people who are thrown together, a loner, a couple, the de facto leader Simon and his admirer Kat. But everything is fine until another female joins the group.  The other story line, set thirty years later, focuses on Lila: still struggling with a personal tragedy, she is given the key of the cottage and sets off there alone to renovate it for selling and decide what she wants from life.

I thought this book was beautifully judged, the twists and turns and links very cleverly done, just the right amount of playing with your emotions, two stories perfectly balanced. You won’t love all the characters – I certainly didn’t, but I never think its essential in order to enjoy a book. I thought this was a really strong second novel, every bit as absorbing as her first, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Hannah Richell comes up with next.

Hannah Richell was born in Kent, England, spent her youth in the UK and Canada, and currently lives in Sydney, Australia with her husband, their two young children and a grumpy rescue cat called Lennie.  Before she became a writer, Hannah worked for ten years in the UK publishing industry before emigrating to Australia in 2005, where she worked for Universal Pictures in Sydney. She began to write in early 2008 while on maternity leave, and the result was her first novel, Secrets of the Tides, which was picked for the 2012 Richard & Judy Book Club and the Waterstones Book Club.

Her follow-up novel, TheShadow Year, was published by Orion Books in June 2013 in Kindle and hardback editions. The paperback version was published on 26thSeptember. 

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