The Secret of Summerhayes by Merryn Allingham

In January I enjoyed reading The Buttonmaker’s  Daughter by Merryn Allingham and hoped there would be a sequel, so I was pleased when Midas Public relations on behalf of the publishers offered me a review copy of The Secret of Summerhayes.

The Secret of Summerhayes

Synopsis (publisher)

A war-torn summer

A house fallen into ruin

A family broken apart by scandal…

Summer 1944: Bombed out by the blitz, Bethany Merston takes up a post as companion to elderly Alice Summer, last remaining inhabitant of the dilapidated and crumbling Summerhayes estate. Now a shadow of its former glory; most of the rooms have been shut up, the garden is overgrown and the whole place feels as unwelcoming as the family themselves.

Struggling with the realities of war, Alice is plagued by anonymous letters and haunting visions of her old household. At first, Beth tries to convince her it’s all in her mind but soon starts to unravel the mysteries surrounding the aristocratic family’s past.

An evocative and captivating tale, The Secret of Summerhayes tells of dark secrets, almost-forgotten scandals and a household teetering on the edge of ruin.

My thoughts

I was hoping this would follow on from The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, which ended in 1914 at the beginning of World War One as I wanted to know what happened to the characters during the war, but The Secret of Summerhayes is set in Sussex in 1944 just before and during the D-Day landings in Normandy. So, forty years have gone by and only Alice Summers remains as one of the main characters. Alice’s daughter, Elizabeth had disappeared at the end of the first book and Alice is still hoping, forty years later, that she will return, especially as she has recently received anonymous letters that she thinks are from Elizabeth.

The two books are only loosely connected and I think that they can both be read independently. It’s hard to assess but maybe I would have enjoyed this second book more if I hadn’t read The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, as I kept hoping to find out more about what had happened to Elizabeth in the intervening years.

Summerhayes has changed, what is left of the gardens is overgrown and the house, except for an apartment for Alice, has been requisitioned by the Canadian army and an entire battalion had taken possession of the estate. Beth has been employed to look after Alice, now an old lady in her eighties, still sharp in her mind, although she is very disturbed by the anonymous letters and other unexplained accidents. The only other members of Alice’s family are Gilbert Fitzroy, her nephew and his young son, Ralph, who live at the neighbouring estate of Amberley, where Alice had lived until her marriage.

This is a slow-paced novel as Beth gradually learns a bit about the history of Summerhayes and in particular some of Elizabeth’s story and about the difficult relations between the Summer and Fitzroy families. I think  knowing what had happened in 1914 meant that some of mystery and tension just wasn’t there for me.  Beth becomes friendly with two of the Canadians, Eddie Rich and especially Jos Kerrigan, although she doesn’t want to get too close to Jos as the planned invasion of France draws nearer. Her relationship with Gilbert also complicates matters.

As in The Buttonmaker’s Daughter, the Italian garden plays a major role, but I think what eventually happened was rather predictable (I wonder though if I would think that if I hadn’t read the first book?) The characterisation is good and I liked the main characters very much. Although my knowledge of the events of D-Day is limited it seemed to me that the author has done her research and incorporated the facts seamlessly into the narrative. A list of sources and an author’s note would have been helpful.

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: HQ; First edition edition (27 July 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0008193851
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008193850
  • Source: review copy
  • My rating: 3.5*

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter by Merryn Allingham

The Buttonmaker's Daughter by [Allingham, Merryn]

Historical fiction is one of my favourite genres, so I was pleased when I was offered a review copy of The Buttonmaker’s  Daughter by Merryn Allingham. It will be published on 12 January. I hadn’t come across any of the author’s books before, but this is the 5th book she has written under the name of Merryn Allingham. She has also written a Regency series under the name Isobel Goddard.

Blurb:

As events in Europe and news of the impending threat of war trickle through, this is a novel that looks at the personal dramas that took place in a society already navigating huge social and political change. Born to an industry-owning father and an aristocratic mother, Elizabeth must juggle her own dreams of independence, her parents’ wishes for her ‘good marriage’, and the responsibility of reuniting her feuding family. Housemaid Ivy is desperate to marry before her love is pulled away to war, William is struggling with his own feelings towards his schoolboy friend, and Elizabeth is drawn to the promise a new life with a charming young architect. Everyone’s life hangs on the brink of change, and if war is declared, will there even be a future for the Summerhayes estate?

My thoughts:

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is set in Sussex in the summer of 1914 just before the start of the First World War, a summer of sweltering heat and of rising tension not only nationally and internationally but also personally for Elizabeth Summer and her family. The novel covers just a few months, but those few months contain so much tension and heartbreak as the feud in the Summers family comes to a climax over the question of who Elizabeth should marry and war on the continent becomes inevitable.

Alice, Elizabeth’s mother was brought up on the Amberley estate which her brother, Henry inherited. But she had made a ‘marriage of convenience’ with industrialist Joshua Summer which had brought the much needed money to save Amberley and at the same time had triggered Henry’s enmity. So when Elizabeth falls in love with Aiden Kellaway, an architect’s assistant working on the landscaping of the Summerhayes gardens both her parents and uncle appear united in finding her a ‘suitable’ husband, one with the proper connections.

The Buttonmaker’s Daughter is a beautiful book. I was completely immersed in the story as the relationship between the two families deteriorates and Elizabeth becomes increasingly aware of the danger both to herself and her younger brother William. The setting is idyllic, the characters are clearly drawn and the sense of life in the immediate pre-war period made me feel I was there in the midst of it all, experiencing the social conventions and class distinctions.

I hope Merryn Allingham will write a sequel as I would like to know more about what happened to them all during the war.

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: HQ; First edition edition (12 Jan. 2017)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0008193835
  • ISBN-13: 978-0008193836
  • Source: review copy