Wednesday 28 June 2023

Guest Review: The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson

Following the death of her mother, Becky begins the sad task of sorting through her empty flat. Starting with the letters piling up on the doormat, she finds an envelope post-marked from Cornwall. In it is a letter that will change her life forever. A desperate plea from her mother's elderly cousin, Olivia, to help save her beloved home.

Becky arrives at Chynalls to find the beautiful old house crumbling into the ground, and Olivia stuck in hospital with no hope of being discharged until her home is made habitable.

Though daunted by the enormity of the task, Becky sets to work. But as she peels back the layers of paint, plaster and grime, she uncovers secrets buried for more than seventy years. Secrets from a time when Olivia was young, the Second World War was raging, and danger and romance lurked round every corner...

The Sea Gate is a sweeping, spellbinding novel about the lives of two very different women, and the secrets that bind them together.

Review: Although she is obviously a prolific and accomplished author, I have to admit that this is the first work from Jane Johnson that I have read. I was intrigued by the book’s striking cover and the mysterious story that the synopsis promised. I was certainly pleased that I had been drawn to this book as I found myself quickly immersed in the story of the lives of two women and their adventures in two different periods of time 70 years apart.

The story centres on Becky and her mother’s elderly cousin Olivia. As Becky is clearing out some of her mother’s belongings after her funeral, she comes across a letter in which cousin Olivia has written asking Becky’s mother for her help. Glad to be escaping for a while, Becky sets off for Cornwall to investigate Olivia’s circumstances. She finds that Olivia is in hospital and in danger of being admitted to a care home unless her old and rather rundown home is given some attention to make it more suitable for her to live in. Becky decides to help the rather formidable old lady, but has no idea what she is about to uncover when she starts to explore the grand but remote seaside house. As she works through the requirements for the house and gets to know the old lady, a tale gradually unfolds of Olivia’s experiences as a young girl living in the house during the second world war consequences of which may spill over into present times.

I have very much enjoyed this thrilling book which kept me completely engrossed from start to finish. The storyline follows the lives of the two women, alternating chapters focusing on one or other of them. There is danger lurking round every corner for each of the women, in past and present times; the reader is never sure what is going to emerge next. Despite the differences in their ages, there were similarities in the experiences of the two women. Like Becky, I had quite a soft spot for the often cantankerous Olivia, but there were some really wicked characters in the book as well who were prepared to go to any lengths to achieve their goals. One of my favourite figures in the book was undoubtedly Olivia’s foul-mouthed grey parrot, Gabriel, who could swear in more than one language and often added some humour to a situation. I can definitely recommend this book and will be returning to other titles from this author in the future.

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