I’m still haunted by the final scenes of this atmospheric novel. I can hear the pool water ripple at The Cliff House and smell the salty air, as the oppressive heat of the day bends to the will of grief with each step into the darkness.
It’s 1986 and the wealthy Davenports have moved into The Cliff House for the summer. On the surface the family seem to have it all – money, glamorous friends and a luxury lifestyle.
As sixteen-year-old Tamsyn watches them in envy she begins to dream of being a part of their lives. Her father is dead and all her happiest memories of him are tied up in their illicit explorations of the big house on the cliff.
Tamsyn’s family is broke. Her older brother is struggling to find his place in the world and her ailing grandfather has been installed in her parent’s former bedroom, while her mother scrapes a living as a cleaner and makes do with a fold-out bed downstairs in the sitting room. The whole family is trying to deal with their grief in their own way and they can’t talk to each other.
Tension simmers and builds as illusions are shattered, until Tamsyn’s obsession with the family at The Cliff House forces everyone into an untenable position that threatens to destroy them all.
Jennings excels at evoking the Cornish landscape: the sights, sounds, flavours and smells that create a heady blend of mystery, excitement and peril. Tamsyn’s clumsy friendship with Edie Davenport feels authentic, as Jenning’s revives the teenage trends of the 1980s to add depth and colour to their chatter and characters. It was an era of experimentation, something that Edie embraces to the full as an act of rebellion.
Tamsyn’s desperation to be part of the wealthy set is obvious to Edie, meanwhile Tamsyn is oblivious to the challenges that Edie faces living in that house with her superficial and complex mother and the father who neglects her. Edie grieves for the love she knows she has never had despite the money, while Tamsyn grieves for the life she craves despite the love she has known.
Both teenagers are looking for an escape route and both think they have found it within each other’s families. Reading this novel is like feeling the summer heat build into an unbearable level of humidity that can only end in an almighty thunderstorm. Waves of disruption toss Edie and Tamsyn about, leaving both of them never quite knowing how, when or if they are ever going to find safety in a storm again.
This is a novel about wilful blindness and the destruction that can follow when it is left unchecked. A novel of obsession, disquiet, grief and loss. A novel that explores what it takes to create a family and how easily it can be broken. I absolutely loved the ending, it still gives me chills to this day. If you’re off on holiday this year, I highly recommend downloading The Cliff House to your e-reader or packing a copy to take with you.
With thanks to NetGalley for the review copy.
Published by Harper Collins.
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