THE SHADOW YEAR by Hannah Richell

THE SHADOW YEAR by Hannah Richell

An abandoned derelict cottage on the shores of a lake deep in the Peak District.  Five university flatmates, at a loose end now that their course of study is finished, footloose and fancy free, still too young to become grown ups with jobs, marriages, babies, mortgages. Summer the five - Kat, Mac, Ben, Carla and Simon make a pact that they will drop out of society for a year, and live in the cottage, feeding themselves from the lake, and from the land. What could be more perfect. Until autumn starts to bite, and an unexpected visitor turns up.  1980, the year that began so promisingly gradually spirals out of the control of the six young people and a tragedy is in the making. 

Thirty years later, Lila and her husband Tom are living in London. Lila has tragically lost her unborn child due to a fall that she can't remember. Both the accident and her memory lapse weigh heavily on her heart and soul and it is seriously affecting her marriage. Out of the blue she receives an envelope with a silver key and some documents bequeathing to her a cottage. Not hard to guess which cottage....  So seeking a break from the sadness around her, and her deteriorating marriage she takes off to the cottage - which has again become derelict and abandoned. As she begins to live in the cottage, to paint and repair it, to get to know the locals, so her healing begins.

Narrated in turn by Kat and by Lila, slowly the story of what happened during the time Kat and her friends lived in the cottage is unfolded, and in turn how Lila came to be given the cottage.  There are many twists and turns in this 'mesmerising story of tragedy, lies and betrayal', which all add up to a great read, especially for a wet weekend because it is very hard to put down. I guessed fairly early on the connections between Lila and those who lived in the cottage thirty years prior, but it in no way at all detracts from the suspense and unfolding of the story.

What holds the story together is primarily the relationship between Kat and Simon, and Simon's role as the natural leader of the group. He is a very charismatic character, and seems to have some sort of power of the will of the others in the group. Kat is passionately and dangerously in love with him which leads to some very dodgy decision making, and the conflicts that arise in the group due to his narcissistic personality ultimately lead to the downfall of the year long experiment. Simon as a character and his powerful hold over the whole group was the one thing that really bothered me about the book. I find it difficult to understand how four university educated young people could allow themselves to be so easily taken in by him. But small quibble really, because this is a good and satisfying read.

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