#Review: The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings @MandaJJennings @HQstories #TheCliffHouse

By | June 13, 2018

The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings was published by HQ on 17 May in hardback and as an e-book: the paperback is due for publication in July 2019, when there can be little doubt that its gorgeous cover will be prominently displayed on every best-seller shelf in the country. I had the real privilege of reading this book ahead of release – with thanks to the author, publisher and netgalley – and the pleasure of raising a glass with the author (along with a hug, of course) at its pre-launch party, telling her how much I’d loved the book, talking about the passages that would stay with me forever.

And I now have a rather embarrassing confession to make – I totally forgot to write my review. Actually, that’s not entirely true – I really thought I had, but realised today that it was only ever in my head. Sincere apologies to everyone, especially Amanda – and now I really must tell you how I felt about it…

Some friendships are made to be broken.

Cornwall, summer of 1986.

The Davenports, with their fast cars and glamorous clothes, living the dream in a breathtaking house overlooking the sea.

If only… thinks sixteen-year-old Tamsyn, her binoculars trained on the perfect family in their perfect home.

If only her life was as perfect as theirs.

If only Edie Davenport would be her friend.

If only she lived at The Cliff House…

Amanda Jennings weaves a haunting tale of obsession, loss and longing, set against the brooding North Cornish coastline, destined to stay with readers long after the final page is turned.

This wonderful book made me reflect on the difference between liking and really loving a book, and I think it’s all about the way it makes you feel. There are those rare books that totally consume you, make you ache inside, talk about to everyone you meet – and, when you reach the end, want to return to the beginning and experience it all over again. This book was so very special.

I felt deeply for young Tamsyn, a gaping hole in her heart and her life after the loss of her father, as she yearned for a different life, obsessively focused on the clifftop house, with its complex associations and echoes of life with her father, and the magnetic pull of the dysfunctional family who live there. Anyone would be dazzled by the Davenports – their gloss and glamour and their carefully constructed illusion of perfection.

Coming of age stories – and I guess this book could fit that description – are rarely my favourites, but Tamsyn’s extreme loneliness and vulnerability made this book something so very different. And then there’s Edie – knowing, mature, sometimes with a wisdom beyond her years – but also so very damaged, disguised with a slick of lipstick and eyeliner and a thin veneer of confidence and sophistication.

But all the characters are wonderful. I ached for brother Jago – not entirely good and perhaps dangerous to know (particularly if you’re a hormonally charged teenager), but with such a massive heart and trying so hard to fill the space left by his father. And mother Angie, so deserving of some happiness of her own but struggling to keep her head above water, concerned by her daughter’s obsession and the damage that could be caused by the ugliness she knows lies beneath.

As with the author’s other books, I started to highlight passages – the perfect description of Cornwall’s wild beauty, the capturing of an emotion where everything rings so true that it hurts – but soon gave up, because the whole book was so desperately beautiful, every scene captured with an artist’s eye. And I can think of no other author who writes as convincingly about grief and loss, and I’m still not sure how she manages it – every word is so carefully chosen, but she also seems to have a gift for creating spaces, great gulfs that you could drown in, pauses brimming over with emotion. With this book, she’s also managed to add a real erotic edge, a claustrophobic atmosphere, a nostalgic feel that belies its 80s setting, and sense of impending danger that permeates the whole book – unsettling, sometimes uncomfortable, but such deeply moving and wonderful writing.

I really don’t need to say “one of my books of the year” and “I really loved it”, do I? And if you’re yet to read it, you’re going to love it too.

Should you be unfamiliar with Amanda’s writing, you can catch up on my reviews of two of her earlier books – The Judas Scar here, In Her Wake here – and read her guest post on the depiction of grief.

About the author

Amanda Jennings lives in Oxfordshire with her husband, three daughters, and a menagerie of animals. She studied History of Art at Cambridge and before writing her first book, was a researcher at the BBC. With a deep fascination for the far-reaching effects of trauma, her books focus on the different ways people find to cope with loss, as well as the moral struggles her protagonists face. When she isn’t writing she can usually be found walking the dog. Her favourite place to be is up a mountain or beside the sea.

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