This is a gripping novel about friendship and obsession set in Cornwall in the summer of 1986 (with a few jumps to present time).
The story is told from many points of view. Firstly and mostly, from Tamsyn’s point of view, a 16-year-old girl living with her poor family in Cornwall. She spends her time spying with her binoculars on The Cliff House, the mansion belonging to the Davenports, a wealthy family from London. She is a loner, still grieving over her father’s death, who died when she was ten, and she finds happiness imagining of living in The Cliff House and being part of this seemingly perfect family. She sees her chance when she becomes friends with young Edie Davenport.
Edie Davenport’s life is far from perfect. Her mother is an alcoholic and her father is a famous writer who likes to flirt with women. They sent her to boarding school when she was eight years old. She travels around the world, she wears fashionable clothes, and she can have whatever she wants, but she feels unloved by her parents, so she got herself expelled from school. Although her friendship with Tamsyn is born out of boredom, Edie seems to care about her and she is also attracted to Tamsyn’s older brother, Jago.
Jago is a couple of years older than Tamsyn. He dropped out of school and went to work in the mine, but he has been jobless since this closed. He manages to bring home some money and get the odd job, but he feels a failure, especially towards his father, having promised to take care of the family.
Angie, Tamsyn and Jago’s mother, works as a cleaner for the Davenports, but she doesn’t trust them and becomes worried when the entire family seems to show an interest in Tamsyn. Also, she is worried about Jago, about their financial situation, and, like Tamsyn, she is still grieving over her husband’s death.
I didn’t really like the character of Tamsyn, but she is very well-portrayed by the author. She seems naïve and shy, but she is not that innocent. Her obsession with The Cliff House and the Davenports is at the centre of the story and make her a complex character, difficult to figure out.
“Here, at The Cliff House, the colours were exaggerated, the light brighter, the smells, the tastes and sounds richer.”
THE CLIFF HOUSE is very well-written and I found the author’s descriptions very evocative. The setting and some of the characters (the alcoholic and depressed wife, the womanizer famous author) reminded me of F. S. Fitzgerald’s novels. The surprises are mostly at the end of the novel, but the tension is high throughout the entire novel, and I was never sure what to expect next.
THE CLIFF HOUSE is out on May 17th and I’d like to thank HQ and HarperCollins for providing me with an early copy of this haunting and fascinating novel.