- Published: 30 January 2024 30 January 2024
The Hidden Years is a dual timeline story centred around a large country house called Silverwood, which is situated on the north bank of the river Helford, near Falmouth in Cornwall. In 1939, Imogen escorts two young boys back to their boarding school at Silverwood, which has relocated from Kent for the duration of the war, and ends up staying a while to cover for the Matron who had been taken to hospital and needed time to recuperate. This leads to her decision to train as a nurse in nearby Truro, and do her bit for the war effort. In 1966, disillusioned with her English Literature studies, Belle takes a gamble and goes to Cornwall for the summer with Gray, a musician she has only known for a week. He had visited the artists’ community at Silverwood the previous year, and wanted to return to focus on his songwriting.
The connection between Imogen and Belle is at the heart of the novel, but finding out why is a very slow process. Gray is familiar with the inhabitants of the house, and doesn’t join in much anyway, but Belle is well out of her comfort zone to begin with. They are an eccentric and not particularly likeable bunch, and the author captures really well the way Belle feels when she first arrives – disoriented, adrift and unsure, although she feels a tenuous connection to Silverwood that she can’t explain.
Initially, I found the wartime narrative more interesting, and the characters more sympathetic. I had not previously known how this area was affected by the war. Over the course of the summer, secrets from the past, that have been deliberately kept hidden, gradually come to light. The final reveal involves a lot of explaining that slows the narrative down. The historical detail has obviously been well researched, and the setting is almost a character in its own right. I particularly enjoyed the musical element of the narrative and wished I could have listened as well. I have read and enjoyed several of this author’s books in the past, and will definitely be on the lookout for her next one. Thanks to Simon & Schuster UK and NetGalley for a digital copy to review.