Author: Hannah Richell
Publication Date: June 26, 2018
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
The Peacock Summer is Hannah Richell’s third long awaited novel and it was as breathtaking as the glorious cover. I loved this book, though I can’t say I loved every minute of reading it because some of the subject matter was a little too soul-crushing to love the reading of it but it was an integral part of the story.
I sit here on finishing and mull over the experience, think about the stories and the characters and try to work out what I want to say; what I want to focus on and how to write about this story I was wholly invested in without giving too much away.
Two very different summers six decades apart come to life within the pages, Richell has woven an intensely moving tale that is sure to evoke a maelstrom of emotion. I know I was on an emotional rollercoaster with some pretty tricky turns that I certainly wasn’t expecting.
Lillian is an empathetic young woman orphaned by the war and fostered in a small town in the Chilterns with her injured sister. A chance meeting sees her come into contact with Charles Oberon, soon after she becomes the object of his affection. Before she knows it she’s been swept along and installed at Cloudesley, the manor house of the Oberons, as the new Mrs Charles Oberon with an adorable young stepson Albie.
A few years in and marriage to Charles has not been anything like Lillian thought it would but she has Albie and her sister to care for so she knows that this is the choice she made and it’s one she has to see through, right to the end. She feels like just another of the beautiful objects captured by Charles and displayed in his beautiful manor house with the rest of his things. To enhance his collection Charles commissions an up-and-coming artist to paint a room in an unused wing of the manor; an ambitious task and one that I suspect had more than one hidden agenda. Jack Fincher spends the summer at Cloudesley to paint the room and everything changes.
Sixty years later Maggie Oberon is running from the heartbreak she caused, and has ended up in Australia; about as far as she could get from home, and as different. Maggie might be running from her mistakes but when she receives a call to say Lillian is ill she wastes no time returning to Cloudesley to take care of her. Returning home is bittersweet when nothing is as you remember and the promises you make may not be that simple to keep.
Richell weaves these two timelines into a seamless narrative where Lillian’s reminiscences fade us back to the past to allow her story to unfold. A story that broke my heart, and it got worse before it got better. The Peacock Summer is an historical fiction, largely concerned with events in the mid-1950s but it has elements of love, mystery, passion and secrets. Secrets that have a way of eventually being uncovered and tearing the shades from everything the younger generation thought they knew.
There is a mystery at the heart of The Peacock Summer and I’m still not 100% sure that I worked it out. I thought I did, a couple of times, but when it all came together at the end I’m left wondering if perhaps it wasn’t as I thought. Another way that Richell so deftly demonstrates how deceiving appearances can be, all manner of things can be hidden behind a well executed façade.
The characters in this story are rich and complex, some of their decisions hard to fathom but on the whole it’s hard not to get invested in their lives and their choices. There are a couple of stand-out characters, and one in particular that I found to be rotten to the core. Richell has actually woven two very contrasting situations in that one stayed when it wasn’t right, and she really should have run for the hills; and one who ran when it wasn’t right which damaged a lot of relationships.
The Peacock Summer made me think about love, happiness and the bigger picture. Love comes in so many forms that it can be quite difficult to know what the right choice is sometimes. Love can be selfish but it can be selfless too, where do you rate your own happiness when it comes to a difficult decision that may affect everyone you love. Does lasting love have to be fired by passion. What happens when you settle, only then to discover that soul deep love was just around the corner. I think what I took away is that you need to value yourself and don’t settle, wait for that love that will set your soul on fire and make the most of every moment because you don’t know how many you will get.
I loved, loved, loved this story. Lillian is such a fiercely loyal and loving woman. Her strength is an inspiration and I enjoyed getting to know her, her wandering both broke and warmed my heart.
Maggie has had some very mixed examples set for her in life and it has added to the pressure she found herself under before she took off. The slow unfolding of her story was not what I expected, but it fit perfectly within the story. I grew to love this damaged young woman whose only constant in life was the grandmother who loved her unconditionally.
The close of this book was just perfect, well almost. It brought together all of the strands of the story and resolved them in a way that was satisfying and realistic. It wasn’t the fairytale happy ever after but then, so often in life that’s not what we get. There was definite happiness in the ending and sometimes that has to be enough.
The Peacock Summer is a beautiful tale of love, passion, secrets and the sometimes sinister coveting of beauty. A rich and complex tale to welcome Richell back to the bestsellers list if I’m any judge. A book I would whole-heartedly recommend to everyone.
The Peacock Summer is book #33 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.