*I received an arc via the publisher in return for an honest review*
I must also add an apology, for some reason I have only just noticed that I have a date mix up! Sincere apologies to the author and the publisher.
My Mother’s Shadow by Nikola Scott
Hartland House has always been a faithful keeper of secrets…
1958. Sent to beautiful Hartland to be sheltered from her mother’s illness, Liz spends the summer with the wealthy Shaw family. They treat Liz as one of their own, but their influence could be dangerous…
Now. Addie believes she knows everything about her mother Elizabeth and their difficult relationship until her recent death. When a stranger appears claiming to be Addie’s sister, she is stunned. Is everything she’s been told about her early life a lie?
How can you find the truth about the past if the one person who could tell you is gone? Addie must go back to that golden summer her mother never spoke of…and the one night that changed a young girl’s life for ever.
I wanted to read this novel, as it is debut and I always like to support debut authors. What I will say is, this novel absolutely blew me away! I was left emotional and teary, just staring at the book and thinking ‘I can’t believe this is a debut novel!’. It had me gripped from the start and is loaded with scenes that pull at the heart strings!
I cannot recommend this novel enough!
The novel is set between two eras, with two central protagonists. In 1958 the protagonist is Liz. A young woman, coming of age and also enduring the agony of losing her mother. Liz’s story pulled at my heart strings immensely as I was only 21yrs old when I lost my own mother! I felt I could relate to her pain and anguish at watching someone you love dearly, slowly wither away in front of your eyes. “I envy them, all those families with all their jolly children” Liz’s parents decide to shelter her from the trauma and agree to send her to Hartland House for the summer. She realises this means she will no longer be able to read with her mother, offer her comfort or be there with her, when death surely comes……..
“But most of all, I know it is death himself, who has started his slow, inevitable descent on this house, who is hovering above our roof and telling everyone that we are not good company”
I read the passage where Liz reads with her mother one last time with tears in my eyes. I was with my own mother at the end and this novel transported me right back to that room. But these weren’t tears of grief/pain, these were tears of a mother I loved so much.
“Saying goodbye to someone you love is like a small death in itself”
“Death is eyeing up our house. That she wants me to be free, at least for a while”
So Liz reluctantly makes her journey to Hartland House, for a summer she will never forget……….
The second protagonist is Addie, Addie is set in the present era and the eldest child of Liz’s. The family is in turmoil as the gather for the year anniversary of Liz’s death. Liz having died in an accident. The family has so many unique characters and is so realistic. The father Graham, is not dealing with the death well and has his own health issues to contend with. Little sister Venetia, is heavily pregnant and quite the madam. Venetia is a hotshot architect and used to getting her own way or dictating to others. There is a younger brother Jasper who is a high-flying surgeon. They each deal with their grief differently and I found this again to me reminiscent of my own mother’s death. We each assigned ourselves roles to play and this in a way enabled us to help each other through our grief. Addie had a strained relationship with her mother, often feeling less loved than her siblings or a career failure. Sadly, I could also relate to this……
“That’s how things had been, between my mother and me”
As the family and Mrs Baxter, a family friend gather round the house there is a knock at the door. Standing on the doorstep is a woman, with a revelation that will shake everything that Addie holds dear to its core.
A revelation that leads right to her roots and Liz’s time at Hartland House………………
Summer July 1958 Liz having nearly arrived at Hartland House, becomes acquainted with the other youngsters. Liz meets Beatrice, Harry, John, Felicity and will. The group are all in their 20s and spend their summers boating in the lake and on the estates grounds. The lady of the house is Janet Shaw, and quickly settles Liz in.
They begin preparations for Liz’s 17th birthday, with excitement.
Present The woman on the doorstep reveals herself to be Phoebe Roberts. She has recently discovered some documents that link her to Liz and more importantly to Addie. Documents that detail ‘charitable sisters of hope, Brighton 12 Dec 1959’. Addie is left reeling and feels she needs time to figure it all out. Venetia verbally attacks Phoebe, asking her how dare she show up on the anniversary and calls her a liar. This family is a family in crisis, and it has only just begun………
“A stranger in this house, a stranger in my own life” Addie
July 1958 Liz starts to enjoy life at Hartland House. She regularly writes to her mother and even begins to fall for John. On her 17th birthday party, she receives a call from her mother. Her party is one of cake, dance, love and romance. Only sadly and unknowingly to Liz her mother will pass away that very night………
Present Addie begins to investigate her mother’s history and eventually works with Phoebe to find the answers they so desperately seek. Addie recalls memories of her life and relationship with her mother. She is desperate to know what is this secret and what does this mean for her. What they discover will shake you to your core……….
“I would never forget your birthday, Addie. Never” Liz
That is as much as I can share with regards to the plot, as I do not wish to include spoilers. the chapters between Liz’s past and daughter, Addie’s present unfolds mystery after mystery. This is an incredible debut novel and has some very thought-provoking themes. It covers the victimisation of women in the 1950s/1960s era, with historical accuracy and vivid emotion. It is also a story of the relationships family members have and how grief impacts upon them. This novel is perfect for book groups, there is so much to debate and discuss. I would also additionally add, that if you consider yourself a feminist, you NEED to read this book! There were so many quotes in my notes, as I detailed all the parts I loved. I shall treasure this novel forever. I shall leave you with this quote about death and the loss of a mother, it made me smile, more than you can imagine.
“We should talk about her more” “We should talk about her all the time. It’s the only way to remember people, to talk about them”
Q) For the readers can you give a summary of your novel and your background?
A) Addie Harington’s relationship with her mother has always been complicated. Forty years of trying to please her mother, brilliant and demanding Elizabeth, have taught Addie to be reticent and wary of other people’s expectations. All this changes on the anniversary of her mother’s death, when a woman appears on her doorstep claiming to be Addie’s long-lost twin sister Phoebe. At first, Addie refuses to believe that her parents have lied to her all her life. But before too long, she and Phoebe embark on a journey into their mother’s past, trying to understand what exactly happened to them in 1960.
Woven into the present-day London plot, diary entries from the late 1950s tell the story of seventeen-year-old Liz, who, reeling from the death of her mother, makes one wrong choice that changes her life and that of her daughters forever.
My life has always revolved around books. I studied English and German literature at university and then became a fiction editor, first in New York and then in London, working mainly with women’s fiction and crime authors. I absolutely loved my job – where else do you get to read and talk about books all day, plus work with fabulous authors! – but I’ve also always had a variety of book ideas rattling around in my head. So when my husband’s job took us to Germany, I decided to change my path and do something different. It takes a little while to get your life and family sorted when you move countries, but eventually everyone was settled at school and nursery. The next day I sat down at the kitchen table and started writing. And that’s where I’ve been ever since
Q) The novel is set at Harland House, is there a real-life inspiration behind the location? *Please add images if possible and I can use them with my Q&A
A)I’ve been a National Trust addict ever since we moved to the UK and we’ve always loved poking around the countryside and old country houses on the weekends. Hartland is loosely based on a beautiful stately home called Polesden Lacey, which is about an hour south of London. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the particulars of my story or the characters, but it was always at the back of my mind when I tried to put myself into the layout and gardens of Hartland.
Q) The novel is set in 1958, what pulled you towards this era in historical fiction?
A) The 1950s still feel close to us, with so many immediate family stories and living memories at hand, and it was driven by forward-thinking developments and efforts at modernisation. At the same time the moral attitudes towards women’s roles, emancipation and sexual enlightenment were stuck someplace in the Victorian age. That juxtaposition – being so close to us in years and yet miles away from our own understanding of the world – is an intriguing starting point for a story, I think. And there’s something nostalgic about that time period that adds a lovely texture and atmosphere to the historical setting.
Q) The novel focuses on the mother and daughter relationship. The depths of love and bond, can go either way. With people’s individual experiences very unique. What was it that drew you to the mother/daughter theme?
A) There tend to be so many stereotypical and formulaic views in the public mind with regard to mother-daughter relationships when, in reality, they’re probably one of the most complex, most lovely and most infuriating things we know. I tried to capture some of that, tried to show that none of the relationships in the book are straightforward or black and white. All of them are fuelled by love, regret, guilt and even dislike, and all of them require a tremendous capacity to forgive and understand – just like real life!
Q) The novel also has a theme of past, reflection and the mistakes we make that can echo into generations. Was there a real-life incident that inspired you?
A) The story of the lost sister was inspired by a friend who met a ‘new’ sister for the first time in her forties. It got me thinking about how complicated that encounter would be and how I would feel in a situation like that – again, not something that is straightforward at all. Generally, I find it endlessly fascinating that one (potentially small) moment in time can have such a monumental impact. It’s a thought that haunts you, particularly when facing big decisions in your life, until you remember that not only does it work both ways – a small act of kindness can have an equally powerful effect – but that you can’t really ever control the reverberations of that one moment in time. An excellent premise for a novel, I think!
Q) The protagonist in the novel is shocked to discover a potential sister may exist. Sisterhood is proving to me a very popular theme in novels. I myself have five brothers and two sisters, the relationships are very unique. I would say that my relationships, with my sisters are very emotionally based. The secrets we share and the way we mother each other, since the loss of our mother in 2005. Is it difficult to write about raw emotion? Does it leave you feeling as though you have lived through the experience with the characters?
A) I do often find myself close to tears as I write but it is a cathartic kind of crying. You can allow yourself to feel very deeply but remain within the ‘safe’ structure of your story and because you’re writing it, there’s a sense of control. The research, on the other hand, was much, much harder for me. Reading about forced adoptions, women’s homes, the stern family environment, the absolutely crippling social stigmata these women faced and the horrendous emotional fallout from the separation – all that was harrowing.
Q) Finally, What is next, do you have a future novel planned? Are we allowed any snippets of information?
A) My next project isn’t related to My Mother’s Shadow, although it shares a similar time structure in that it brings together a historical and a contemporary plot. The historical strand is set in the late 1930s where a group of friends come together for a country house weekend at Summerhill before the start of WW II. Summerhill is a beautiful, remote estate on the Cornish coast belonging to the young Hamilton sisters, Madeleine and Georgiana. It promises safety and shelter against the looming threat of war, but before the weekend is over tragedy will have struck and none of their lives will ever be the same. Seventy years later, in 2009, Chloe – a young photographer living in Plymouth – crosses paths with old Madeleine Hamilton, now a famous children’s book artist. An unlikely friendship develops as they uncover an intricate web of love and loyalty, secrets and lies.
Credit: Shelley Jager
Get in touch with Nikola via her website www.nikolascott.com
*Huge thanks to the author Nikola Scott for agreeing to take part in a Q&A on my blog.