It’s a pleasure today to be joining the blog tour for Her Previous Self by Anne Allen, the eighth of the Guernsey Novels: available via Amazon in the UK and US, it’s now available for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to Rachel of Rachel’s Random Resources for inviting me to be part of the tour, and to the author for my advance reading e-copy.
I always really enjoy Anne Allen’s wonderful story-telling – ever since reviewing the first two Guernsey novels, Dangerous Waters and Finding Mother, way back in 2014 (you’ll find those reviews here). My favourite so far? At one point, I would have said Echoes of Time – I always really enjoy a well-handled timeslip novel – and you can read my review again (with links to the earlier books) here. But I think I might just have enjoyed her last book, The Inheritance, even more – you’ll find that review here, and I was delighted to include it in my 2019 Books of the Year list. It’s been a bit of a wait for this one, but I was really looking forward to reading Anne’s writing again…
Two women, living two hundred years apart but closer than sisters.
Mary, miserable in her marriage to Thomas Carre, a merchant and privateer and living in the newly-built family mansion in Georgian Guernsey.
Lucy, separated from her husband after a tragic loss and now acting as an unwilling sitter for her elderly grandfather, Gregory Carre, who has inherited the same mansion.
Lucy is haunted by Mary’s continued presence in the house and finds herself being pulled more and more back in time. How is it possible for her to live as Mary? To experience scenes from her tragic life? Lucy is forced to come to terms with Mary’s grief as well as her own.
The more enmeshed she becomes the more anxious Lucy is to discover the truth. Why is Mary still restless? What caused her mysterious disappearance two hundred years ago?
And can Lucy move on from her own loss to find happiness again?
“A moving, atmospheric time-slip story” – now that looks like the book for me, doesn’t it? Combined with the Guernsey setting the author always draws so wonderfully well, and the possible treat of coming across some of the characters I’d enjoyed in the earlier books in the series, I already knew this was a book I would enjoy.
Lucy is back in Guernsey following the sad loss of her baby daughter and the disintegration of her marriage that followed: she’s hoping for some recovery time with her parents – never the easiest of relationships – but they decide to head off on holiday, leaving her responsible for the care of her ailing grandfather Gregory, who lives alone in his neglected Georgian mansion. But the hands-on care is managed by others, and she has the opportunity to get to know the grandfather she’d always found austere and forbidding, while trying to rebuild her life by reconnecting with friends from her youth and spending time at the gym. In her room, there is a portrait of the mansion’s original owners, Thomas and Mary Carre, which she’s fascinated by – and then she begins to feel Mary’s presence, with a story she needs to tell, the portrait the catalyst for some distinctly unsettling experiences, and she can’t fully move on with her own life before discovering Mary’s complete sad story.
And what she uncovers really is quite a story – forced into marriage with the brother of a man who was originally her love match, Mary encounters abuse and cruelty at his hands, her suffering only alleviated when she becomes mother to two children she can love. But there’s far more to the story – as well as being a drunkard and a bit of a sadist, Mary discovers evidence of other dark deeds he’s committed, in a particularly dramatic fashion. Lucy knows that Mary’s fate is shrouded in mystery, with the date of her death unrecorded in family history, and she needs to follow her story through to its end to allow Mary the closure she needs and to achieve some of her own.
I’m always a fan of a well-handled time-slip story, and this one most certainly was – the way Lucy interacts with the portrait was particularly effective and original, and something I particularly enjoyed, although I will admit that I did find some of the supernatural elements distinctly disturbing (but I am a bit of a wuss about such things!). The links and echoes between the two stories are very strong, largely through the shared experience of motherhood – and I particularly liked the way Lucy’s ability to move on with her own life depended on the final resolution to Mary’s story. However much a story like this needs a suspension of disbelief, it’s entirely fitting that Lucy experiences Mary’s difficult life rather than simply seeing it – and her whole experience is never less than real and believable, as she is supported by therapist Molly to keep her on an even keel through it all.
The success of a time-slip can depend on equal engagement with both stories – and I will confess I did find the historical story a touch more engaging than Lucy’s own, although her grief was particularly well-drawn, and I enjoyed her tentative steps into a new friendship with a possibility of it becoming rather more. I also particularly liked her new-found closeness with her grandfather – a character I particularly liked – his enthusiasm for finding out the full story of Mary’s fate almost matching her own. Mary’s story is particularly high on emotion, and her story compelling – the author wonderfully recreates the settings and social expectations of the time, Mary is a particularly sympathetic and strong heroine, and Thomas an absolute monster who darkens every scene in which we encounter him.
The other “presence” in the book is, of course, Guernsey itself – the settings were as beautifully described as I’ve come to expect from the author, and it was especially interesting to find out more about the privateering past that funded the construction of those magnificent Georgian mansions. And I was also delighted to find that there were indeed opportunities to meet up with characters from earlier books – Lucy isn’t the first to have experienced a brush with Guernsey’s past – although there’s no need to have read those earlier books to enjoy this one every bit as much as I did. A very enjoyable read – and one I’d most certainly recommend to others.
A book you’d enjoy too? Here’s the video trailer to help you make your mind up…
With thanks to Anne and Rachel, I’m delighted to be able to offer the chance to win a paperback copy of Her Previous Life (UK only), or an e-copy for an international winner. Here’s the rafflecopter for entry:
Terms and Conditions Worldwide entries welcome. The winner will be selected at random via Rafflecopter from all valid entries and will be notified by Twitter and/or email. If no response is received within 7 days then Rachel’s Random Resources reserves the right to select an alternative winner. Open to all entrants aged 18 or over. Any personal data given as part of the competition entry is used for this purpose only and will not be shared with third parties, with the exception of the winners’ information. This will passed to the giveaway organiser and used only for fulfilment of the prize, after which time Rachel’s Random Resources will delete the data. I am not responsible for despatch or delivery of the prize.
About the author
Anne Allen lives in Devon but originates from Rugby. Finding early on in life that she loved the sea she spent most of her adult years moving from one coast to another. Her happiest time was spent in Guernsey where she lived for nearly 14 years and her books are all set on that beautiful island. Until recently Anne was a psychotherapist but has now retired to write full time. So far she has published Dangerous Waters, Finding Mother, Guernsey Retreat, The Family Divided, Echoes of Time, The Betrayal, The Inheritance and Her Previous Self, forming the Guernsey Novels series. The books focus on love, mystery, drama and relationships. In her spare time she dabbles in art and very occasionally housework.