At twenty-six, Lillian feels ancient and exhausted. Her marriage to Charles Oberon has not turned out the way she thought it would. To her it seems she is just another beautiful object captured within the walls of Cloudesley, her husband’s Chilterns manor house.
But, with a young step-son and a sister to care for, Lillian accepts there is no way out for her. Then Charles makes an arrangement with an enigmatic artist visiting their home and her world is turned on its head.
Maggie Oberon ran from the hurt and resentment she caused. Half a world away, in Australia, it was easier to forget, to pretend she didn’t care. But when her grandmother, Lillian, falls ill she must head back to Cloudesley. Forced to face her past, she will learn that all she thought was real, all that she held so close, was never as it seemed.
The Peacock Summer by Hannah Richell is a compelling story of secrets, betrayals and the consequences of a long-ago summer.
Maggie leaves Australia and returns home to Cloudesley to help her ailing grandmother, and when she learns that her grandmother is in serious debt, she does all she can to save the house. She could sell the land and the property, but she knows how much the manor means to her grandmother. Additionally, Maggie runs into an old boyfriend and she is forced to confront her past.
“She avoids him for two days. Or perhaps he avoids her. Either way, it is a relief not to come upon him in the immediacy of her embarrassing blunder. She busies herself with menus and staffing arrangements.”
The Peacock Summer switches back and forth between Lillian as a young woman in 1955, and Maggie in present day as she tries to restore Cloudesley. Lillian is trapped in an abusive marriage, until she meets the charming and handsome Jack Fincher.
Like many historical fiction novels, The Peacock Summer is a story about lost love, heartache, sacrifice, and family secrets travelling through generations.
“It had become the pattern in their lives: Albie blowing in and out like a leaf on the wind, and the mother she had once known featuring in only the most distant echoes of memories and dreams.”
The cover design of this book is exquisite, and the inside filled with emotion and heartache. The language is evocative and the characters engaging. The lives of Lillian and Maggie do parallel each other and in many ways, they’re similar women.
Both women are flawed. Maggie runs away from difficult decisions, and finds it tough to confront her mistakes, and Lillian always seems to be looking for an excuse not to make a difficult choice, even if it’s the right choice.
Readers will sympathise for both women in the novel, and they’ll find comfort in the close relationships that Hannah has captured. In particular, the relationship between Lillian and her stepson Albie, and of course Maggie and Lillian.
“The further they get from Cloud Green, the more she feels her shoulders relax and her jaw unclench. Away from the flower show, she can feel the mantel of her public self being cast off like a scarf tossed to the wind. It is a relief to be free from the intense scrutiny of the village.”
It’s fascinating to read the timeline from both POV, because it shows you how incorrect someone’s judgment can be. Maggie views Lillian and Charles’ relationship to be one of great, mad love. But she’s misunderstood, and it’s only as we make our way through the novel we realise just how wrong Maggie is. And Maggie realises it too — the pedestal she’d been holding that relationship on was misguided and incorrect.
Despite it being predictable how Lillian and Jack’s relationship would end, I did find myself really invested in their storyline. The mysterious art in the nursery allowed for an element of intrigue and suspense, whilst also putting a timeframe on Lillian and Jack’s love. It made the reader want to keep reading. We could sense the looming deadline, and we want to know how Hannah will deliver the ending.
As hard as I tried, I just wasn’t interested in Maggie’s storyline. She’s a caring granddaughter, desperately trying to hold on to her grandmother’s home. But, I just didn’t connect with her and the scandalous breakup with her ex-boyfriend. I was far more invested in Lillian’s story, and her relationship with the men in the Cloudesley estate.
I’d recommend this to readers of historical fiction. It contains the overused but popular dual timeline of granddaughter and grandmother, and closely kept family secrets, but it’s an interesting and compelling read.
Thank you to the publisher for mailing me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Peacock Summer
Hachette Book Publishers Australia