It’s been quite a long time since I last read and enjoyed a book by Harriet Evans – Happily Ever After, way back in 2012, when Being Anne wasn’t even a twinkle in my eye. So I was rather delighted when Anne at Random Things invited me to be part of this blog tour, and really looking forward to rediscovering the author’s writing. The Wildflowers has been available for kindle since February, but was released in paperback by Headline on 5th April – newly chosen as a summer read by the Richard and Judy Book Club and, when I took a look today, best selling in the contemporary romance fiction category on Amazon. I don’t read that many bestsellers these days – but my goodness, I’m so glad I didn’t pass this one by…
The new novel by Sunday Times bestseller Harriet Evans will transport you to a Dorset beach house, where you can feel the sand between your toes. Enter the home of Tony and Althea Wilde – the Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor of their generation and with a marriage every bit as stormy. This glorious tale of tangled family secrets and lies will leave you warm and glowing.
Tony and Althea Wilde. Glamorous, argumentative … adulterous to the core.
They were my parents, actors known by everyone. They gave our lives love and colour in a house by the sea – the house that sheltered my orphaned father when he was a boy.
But the summer Mads arrived changed everything. She too had been abandoned and my father understood why. We Wildflowers took her in.
My father was my hero, he gave us a golden childhood, but the past was always going to catch up with him … it comes for us all, sooner or later.
This is my story. I am Cordelia Wilde. A singer without a voice. A daughter without a father. Let me take you inside.
When I noticed that this book was 540+ pages, I’ll admit to some trepidation – that’s usually the size of two books for me. But those pages flew by, and it was a lovely experience to be in the very safe hands of such a wonderful story teller.
This book was enthralling – I found it impossible to look away from the chaotic life of the Wilde family, Tony and Althea with their glorious self-obsession and shaky moral standards, their children Cordy and Ben undoubtedly loved but beset by such levels of drama and complication as they move through childhood. The primary setting for this book was simply perfect too – the Bothy, a rambling house on Worth Bay in Cornwall, revisited across the book’s sweeping timescale, a perfect backdrop for the simple pleasures of childhood and for those shocking moments on which the story turns. Mads is a wonderful creation, both as child and adult – beginning as an outsider, fascinated by the Wildes, cataloguing their every move in forensic detail in her diary, then inextricably bound up in their story.
The weaving of the story’s threads – spanning time from Tony’s wartime childhood to the children’s adulthood and their parents’ old age, the past catching up with the present – is hypnotic, the large cast of characters introduced, developed and manipulated with absolute ease. In both past and present, this story has a bit of everything: there are moments when you’d be happy to be part of the story, those carefree days of swimming in the bay and playing games of Flowers and Stones, and others where the shocks and surprises and tangled awfulness of it all make you rather glad that you’re just the reader and can walk away at the end. You might walk away, but you won’t forget this one in a hurry – I enjoyed this book very much.
About the author
Harriet Evans grew up in London. As a child she loved reading and making up stories. She then progressed on to teenage geekdom and agonised Sylvia Plath-style poetry it’s probably best not to dwell on. The career in musical theatre she’d always dreamed of never materialised for whatever reason, and so she ended up at Bristol University where she read Classical Studies. In her twenties she was lucky enough to get a job as a secretary at a publishers and instantly realised working with books was what she’d always wanted to do. She was a fiction editor for ten happy years but left in 2009 to write full-time, making up stories all day.
Harriet still lives in London with her family. She likes old films, property websites, sloe gin cocktails, feminism and Bombay Mix, not in that order.