Author: Victoria Purman
The Three Miss Allens is a step outside the comfort zone of author Victoria Purman, it’s like nothing she has written before and it is amazing. I love this story, I love these characters and the setting is just divine.
Once again Purman keeps us in her home state of South Australia and much of the story takes place on the coast a couple of kms along from Victor Harbor. We aren’t heading to Middle Point this time though; the three Miss Allens spend their summer holidays in Remarkable Bay.
The story opens in 2016 with Roma Harris packing up her Adelaide life to move to Remarkable Bay and hide out at Bayview, the dilapidated old house she’s bought. Roma spent many childhood summers in Remarkable Bay with her family though never staying at Bayview, by the time she was summering on the coast the house was already in its twilight years and used as a squat.
Roma has been doing it tough for a few years and she finally got to the point she needed an escape, and something drew her to Remarkable Bay. With no long term plans Roma leaves her job, packs up and sells her house and makes her sea change. She’s happy to cocoon herself in her new house, insulated from the world and live in isolation. That’s not what life has in store for her though…
Leo is Roma’s brother and he’s worried about her; he’s worried about why his sensible and cautious sister would leave everything and move to Remarkable Bay after sinking a small fortune into a house that even the real estate agent thinks is better off knocked down to subdivide the block and build modern townhouses. His concern sees him call a distant cousin who was once quite close to the family and ask her to head down to Remarkable Bay and check on Roma.
Addy takes a much needed break from her Adelaide life and heads down to Remarkable Bay, the film she had been working on had just hit a delay anyway. Bayview is far from anything Addy is used to but she pitches in to help Roma tidy and refresh the place; it’s her that finds the mysterious old guestbook that lists three Miss Allens staying in the house in 1934.
This is where the story forks into two time periods, we continue to follow Roma and Addy in 2016 but we also head back to 1934 to enjoy the summer with Ruby, Adeline and Clara Allen at Bayview. The distant cousins happen to be joined by the Allen sisters; Roma is Ruby’s great-granddaughter and Addy is the great-granddaughter of Adeline but neither of them ever remember hearing mention of a Clara.
That’s as much of the story as I really want to tell, actually it’s probably more than I want to tell, but it’s late on a Friday night and I had trouble starting this review.
The Three Miss Allens boasts quite an impressive cast and I think this could convincingly be stretched into a series that completely fills the gap between 1934 and 2016, telling us how the close knit family that was the Allens expands through the generations into a family whose branches don’t keep in touch; it was by pure coincidence that Addy and Roma ended up connecting because they went to school together.
There are two complete casts in this story, one in 1934 and one in 2016. In 1934 the Allen family heads to Bayview to holiday for the summer, the girls are at a marrying age so there are fiances and future in-laws as well as the Remarkable Bay community, many of whom are also Adelaide families on holiday. 2016 sees us get to know Roma and Addy as well as some of the Remarkable Bay community.
I think one of the things I love the most about this book is the connections; familial and generational. But really there is a lot that I love about this book and trying to put it into words without spoiling the intrigue and the suspense is really difficult, regardless of the fact that I should be sleeping.
The biggest mystery is this third Miss Allen, who is Clara Allen? She wasn’t written with the other sisters so was she family, how common was the name, could it be coincidence and if she is related why has no-one heard mention of her? This is a question that runs right through the story.
The parallels between the generations are uncanny which is something I got a real kick out of, it wasn’t necessarily a case of history repeating so much as time throwing up similar situations and demonstrating how different the decisions can be depending on the time.
Each of the characters have secrets, as do each of the families, and sometimes those secrets are best left buried. Time has a way of sorting things out in the end.
The Three Miss Allens took me through the complete range of emotions, all the way to rage and anger in stark contrast to the heartbreak and the empathy.
What begins as a run and hide defense mechanism slowly transforms into something completely different, something beautiful and empowering even.
The Three Miss Allens is a gorgeous tale of new beginnings, the circle of life, the restorative power of the South Australian beaches and the importance of family.
It addresses the way that women often compare themselves and measure themselves against someone else; never seeing themselves reflected in other eyes and never being able to see yourself the way other people see you. That person you are so envious of for whatever reason could have on a mask as convincing as your own and they too only see the face you are projecting, not the real you.
The secrets we keep aren’t always for the best, of anyone, but all people and all families have secrets and sometimes you just can’t tell what damage unearthing them could do.
The Three Miss Allens is book #51 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2016.
Available October 24th from Harlequin, Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.
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20 of our lucky readers will be reading The Three Miss Allens so please be aware there may be spoilers in the comments below.