The Key to Flambards

Written by Linda Newbery
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

When fourteen-year-old Grace Russell reluctantly comes to Flambards, where her great-great-grandparents once lived, she’s still in shock from the accident which left her disabled. Furthermore, her parents have divorced, which means she’s also lost her home.

Gradually, Grace becomes curious about her forebears, particularly her great-great-grandmother, the redoubtable Christina, who learnt to fly and was afraid of nothing. But Christina’s life was full of tragedy. Her first husband, Will, died at 22 in a plane crash during the First World War. Later, Christina married his half-brother, Mark, and their son was killed in 1940, aged 18.

Then Grace meets two distant cousins: the friendly Jamie, a passionate naturalist, and the troubled Marcus whose father, the dangerously volatile Adrian, has returned from Afghanistan, suffering from unacknowledged PTSD.

Grace comes to understand that, throughout the generations, her forebears tended to hide their emotions, choosing to stay silent rather than talk, and hurting each other. And it is happening again. If she, Jamie and Marcus can’t learn from the family history, they will be doomed to repeat it.

I thought this was a terrific book; it reminded me of Joanna Trollope at her best; awful things happen, but her heroines learn from them, cope and move on. Grace, too, must struggle with problems with age-old roots and have the courage to break old patterns.

As Grace learns, she gradually realises that the past is truly a foreign country. The assumptions, the ways of coping with emotional stress, and the treatments, both medical and psychological, are all different. A hundred years on from Christina’s generation, a more positive future for herself, Jamie and Marcus is now possible.

Linda Newbery is an award-winning author, and The Key to Flambards is one of her best. She certainly gets a gold star from me.