Memories are important in older age but they slip in and out of focus with possible repercussions that affect the past and the present in ways seen and unseen, silent and heard, light and dark, but always important. Starting in 1911, delving into the past, taking us into the future, this is how I would summarise The Memory of Lost Senses
, Judith Kinghorn's eagerly awaited second novel (after the enjoyable first one, The Last Summer
), in which the reader is taken from sleepy Hampshire to Paris and Rome in the late 19th century, and then way back, to when and where it all began ... to when Cora had to flee to Europe as a girl ...
Following on from that tremendous and unsettling event, Cora, Countess de Chevalier de Saint Léger, has led quite an adventurous and colourful life. Now, living at Temple Hill in the Hampshire village of Bramley, she knows she'll never leave England again, and that she must hold on to her memories, her truth that sometimes troubles her. At other times, she finds pleasant thoughts of yesteryear and the people that shared those times. And it seems Cora is tenaciously protecting her grandson Jack from the consequences of her past actions.
Why has Cora spent her life travelling through Europe? How many marriages has she had, exactly? Is there a Big Secret? Cora's lady companion, Sylvia thinks she has the right to know, the right to be the person who will set the secrets down on paper forever. But another writer, the young Cecily Chadwick who lives in the village, becomes interested in the new occupants at Temple Hill, not least Jack. Will Cora be able to hang on to her memories long enough to do what is right for Jack as his romance with Cecily develops in the summer haze, and later, when he returns from the brutal World War that comes along to change many things forever?
Oh, how I loved these characters when the story was lifted from the pages to me, crafted in Judith's clear narrative voice. How well I knew them by the time I closed the book - wasn't I there, at Temple Hill taking tea on the lawn with them all, uncovering Cora's life story in fragments?
This is not a straightforward fictional memoir and it is certainly a considered read. You might, at times, be mesmerised by the small pieces of information you glean from dialogue, from the effect on the surrounding characters, from delving into Cora's recollections. You must trust Judith Kinghorn's skill, for her understanding of the way memory works in later years makes her admirably capable of weaving a tale that unfolds gently, beautifully, with a definite ending in mind.
I fully intend to hold on to my copy forever; I know I shall read this novel again, and again. Judith Kinghorn writes literature I love to read and I cannot wait for the next book - but I know I'll have to.