UK Publisher: Orion
Genre: Historical fiction, family saga
The Peacock Summer isn’t necessarily a book I would have picked up on my own, however the proof copy of the book was so beautiful that I found myself drawn to it – a triumph of judging a book by its cover! This came out last week, on the 28th June, so it is available now.
It follows the stories of Lillian and Maggie Oberon, grandmother and granddaughter, across a summer of their lives when they are each 26 at their family stately home, Cloudesley. Lillian, trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage to Charles Oberon viewing the house like a prison, and Maggie, sixty years later, who has spent a year running from the hurt and heartbreak she had caused back home and returns to find Cloudesley in a rapidly deteriorating condition. I really enjoyed the way the two stories were mirrored – each occurrence over Lilian’s summer is then followed by Maggie experiencing her own story at the same point of summer six decades on. This was very lightly done, and really wove the two tales together.
I would note that there should be some trigger warnings for this book, as Lilian’s story goes into some detail about her marriage and her husband. Whilst Maggie lives in the blissful assumption that her grandparents had a grand romance, based partly on a letter she found in her grandfather’s study, Lillian’s narrative gives us a bare and brutal account of the reality of the matter. Lillian’s summer follows her romance with artist Jack Fincher, who her husband has invited to stay at Cloudesley for the summer to work on a piece for him, whilst Maggie in the future is caring for Lillian after she is released from hospital, and desperately trying to find a way to repair the house when funds are low and support is scarce, whilst confronting her own demons.
What I really liked about this book was that whilst romance was a significant part of each of the women’s stories, it wasn’t the resolution for them. Romance wasn’t the fix-all it can be in other books, and instead the characters find resolution in other ways, building their personal strength and gaining satisfaction. I took a particular joy in seeing the difference in Lillian through the ages – at 26 and 86, and a few others in between – and finding out how she has grown as a character, how she changes and what causes this. The stories are woven into each other and echo each other so well, each detail is unfurled at just the right time. The foreshadowing and pacing is such that it becomes easy to predict what each new revelation will be, however instead of making the book boring it just means that every new reveal feels like it slots perfectly into place in the narrative – like the last few pieces of a jigsaw, they are satisfying in the way they complete the picture even if I already had a good idea what they would show.
I also enjoyed the two women’s relationships with Albie – Lillian’s stepson, and Maggie’s father. Both have had radically different experiences of him, one as a child and one as an adult, and in part he has framed their stories and made them who they are, even as he has comparatively little impact on the book itself for the majority of the narrative. I found his story a little tragic, in the way it demonstrated how a childhood can impact an adult life, and have ripples which reached far wider than anticipated.
I found it a little hard to settle into the book to begin with, but I know this is entirely because it is a genre outside of my normal comfort zone. Once I got embedded in the rhythm, I really enjoyed it and found myself wrapped up in the trials and triumphs of these two women. I thought the two timelines were wonderfully balanced and interwoven, seeing the foundations built even as the roof is put on. It was a great display of dramatic irony, watching Maggie’s assumptions and preconceptions even as they were roundly disproved by Lillian’s narrative. In some ways, Maggie’s story was the less interesting of the two, however it had the promise of the pay-off and satisfaction which would round off Lillian’s story, which kept me invested.
- Neatly done family story, with split narratives and two timelines which are perfectly interwoven and timed to mirror each other.
- Two different but decisive strong female characters, developing in their own way through their narrative arcs.
- A real sense of atmosphere across the two timelines – one of luxury, the other of decay.
- Showed the nuances of relationships, and the differences between appearance and reality.
Rating: 4/5 – definitely not my usual choice of book, but this would make a good summer read and I enjoyed it a lot.