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A Perfect Summer Read (or Winter ... or anytime really)
on 28 June 2010
The story centres around sisters Erica and Beth Calcott who inherit the family seat, Storton Manor, from their cold, unloving grandmother Meredith. From the blurb I expected it to be a run-of-the-mill dual-timeframe 'woman inherits house and discovers family secrets buried within' type story, of which I've read quite a few lately, but I was very pleasantly surprised. It's streets ahead of a lot of the genre in terms of the quality of the writing, the originality of the historical setting and sheer page-turning readability.
In the contemporary story, Erica is dealing with her sister's depression, her rekindled feelings for her childhood friend Dinny and the fall-out from the disappearance of her cousin Henry who went missing during a family holiday at the house in the balmy summer of 1986. At the same time she starts to delve into her family history, discovering a cache of old photographs and letters in the attic which causes her to question her heritage and her family's links to the travellers who have lived on their land since the beginning of the last century.
The historical thread involves Erica's aristocratic Great-Grandmother Caroline, someone she remembers only vaguely from her childhood as a fierce, matriarchal figure. Caroline comes alive as her story is told, from her early years as a New York debutant under the thumb of her domineering Aunt Bathilda, to her life as a rancher's wife in the wilds of Oklahoma. A tragic event causes her to flee to London and make a new life for herself as Lady Calcott, bringing with her a terrible secret for which she has to atone for the rest of her life.
The two threads blend together beautifully with the links becoming more obvious as the book progresses (including a twist near the end involving the missing cousin which I had an inkling about from early on). With this type of book I usually prefer the historical story, but for once I was equally engrossed in both elements and could happily have read a whole novel based on either.
I understand that The Legacy is Katherine Webb's seventh completed novel but only the first to be published and it came to the publisher's attention through a peer-review creative writing website. She now has a two book deal and her next book, The Unseen, is out next year and sounds very interesting. Meanwhile The Legacy is a great read and definitely one for fans of the work of Katharine McMahon, Rachel Hore, Kate Morton etc.