The Peacock Summer
Summoned home to present-day England to care for her grandmother, Maggie Oberon finds Lillian ailing and confused, the grand manor of Cloudesley falling apart, and the townspeople unwilling to welcome Maggie back after her abrupt departure the year before. Intertwining with Maggie’s story of trying to set things right is the sun-filled tale of Lillian’s summer of 1955, when artist Jack Fincher came to Cloudesley to paint a room and Lillian fell in love. Her brief weeks of joy come at a terrible cost, hinted at in the secrets casting their shadows over Maggie’s story: the closed-off west wing; the abrupt arrivals and departures of the feckless, reckless Albie, Lillian’s stepson and Maggie’s father; and the occasional voice of a nameless Watcher who guards the house with a malign intensity.
Each woman struggles, in her own time, for a remedy to old wounds: Maggie tries to sort out a broken engagement to her childhood friend, repair her friendship with Will, and come to terms with the scars her absent parents have left on her, while Lillian wrestles with her obligations to Albie and her stricken sister as well as the brutality of her husband, Charles. The prose is lush and full-blooming, the pacing taut, and the setting brilliant with light and color as the suspense builds, pushing each woman to her breaking point. The last third of the book, when secrets are exposed like falling dominos, pulls the reader along to an ending both bitter and achingly sweet. Lillian and Maggie are rich and complex characters, struggling to embrace passion and yet fulfill their duty, and their alternating stories balance well against one another, imparting lessons on life, love, family, obligation, and—most of all—the enduring power and beauty of art. An immensely satisfying read.