Sunday, 3 November 2013

I Couldn't Put Down The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell!

Hannah Richell's done it again with her new novel, The Shadow Year!

It's 1980 and five graduates decide to spend a year at a dilapidated cottage by a lake in the Peak District: Kat, through whose eyes the story is told; Simon, the self-appointed leader of the group, and the man she's fancied all through uni; Ben and Carla, a couple who are better at growing food and cooking it than the others; and Mac, the quiet one, who at least has some idea of living off the land. Then Kat's sister, Freya, turns up . . .

In the present, Lila is left the key to the same cottage by a mysterious donor. She's just had a miscarriage after falling down the stairs. She can't come to terms with her loss, or remember the details of how it happened, and decides to take some time away from her husband, Tom, and go up to the cottage. After all she is an interior designer, perhaps she could so something with it?
When she arrives, she finds it's been uninhabited for some time and it looks as if the people left in a hurry, leaving everything just as it was.

The two halves of the story are told alternately, each reflecting what happens in the present with what happened in the past. Gradually, the pieces of the mystery are put together, and Lila finds out the terrible secret of what happened during that shadow year.

One of the images that Hannah uses through the book is honesty, the plant with the seed cases like the face of the moon. Honesty grows in the cottage garden, but also forms the theme of the story, about who is being honest and who is hiding a secret.
Another image is the alder trees sheltering the lake. They remind me of the poem by Charles Stuart Calverley called Shelter which mentions 'the wide weird lake where the alders sigh'. (You can find it here. It's worth a read.)
Walden Pond
This in turn brings me to the lake itself. In the epigraph, Hannah Richell quotes Henry Thoreau, talking about Walden Pond: he says that a lake is like the Earth's eye, and in this book the lake sees and reflects the drama that unfolds around it.

Apart from Hannah Richell's emotional descriptions and believable characters, she really has the skill to keep you guessing. I even found myself going through the possibilities, summing up what I knew and trying to work out what had happened, in just the same way I might work at one of my own plots!

This is Hannah's second novel, I reviewed Secrets of the Tides last year, and said that I just had to sit down and finish it! It's been the same with this one too!
I think it's a great book in the style of Jojo Moyes. Start reading it today, but make sure you're sitting comfortably: you won't want to stop!


  1. Sounds wonderful, Jean - thanks for bringing this to our attention!

    1. Thanks, Rosemary. I love trying new authors!