New Book – The Summer House by Mary Nichols

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Publishing year: 2009

The book starts in 1918, and we are introduced to Helen.

She is in Scotland, living with her great-aunt as she expects her child. From the first moment we get the feeling that something is not right, and then we learn that even though Helen is married, the child will mean a shame for her family. So in her memories we get to know that she’s married to Richard, a man her very wealthy parents liked and approved of. Richard and Helen got married in just a few weeks and then he had to go to France to fight. Helen thought that he was a nice man and would make a good husband. Later she’d recant. Her parents are Lord and Lady Hardingham, and during the war they opened their house to officers. It was then that Helen met Oliver Donovan, a Canadian pilot, and they fell in love. They used the summer house for their love trysts, but then Oliver had to go, promising to return for her as she promised she’d divorce Richard. Weeks later she learnt that she was pregnant, and when she told her parents, they naturally assumed that the baby couldn’t be Richard’s. So they sent her to Scotland, and Helen was riddled with despair as she hadn’t heard from Oliver. Helen guessed that either he simply had played with her or he had been killed in action. What I think must have happened is that her parents intercepted any letters from him. I find Helen a bit spineless; she’s unable to stand up for what she believes in. She lets her parents frogmarch her to Scotland and then she follows her father to a clinic in London where the baby will be sorted out. Helen gives birth to a baby girl she names Olivia and falls in love with her instantly. Then her father and mother come and tell her she has to give the baby up, and even though she does protest, her father forces her baby away from her, and from her window Olivia sees the nurse taking her baby away from the clinic. Helen promises that one day she’ll find her baby.

The book then moves forward in time, and the year is 1940, twenty-two years later. We get to know Laura, who is a nurse and engaged to Bob. They are to be married the next day, and Laura is excited and very happy. At first, I thought that Laura might be the child that Helen had to give away, but I’m not sure. Laura lives with her widowed mother Anne  Drummond. From Anne’s recollections we learn how she and her husband met, and after they married, he went to the war. Anne had problems to conceive and was quite low about it, but then she got pregnant and had Laura. I wonder if that’s the truth, or if Laura came to be her daughter from other means. In any case,  when Laura is getting ready for her wedding, Bob’s best friend Steve comes to tell her that Bob has been killed in action, which naturally shatters her.

We also know that Laura is going to have a baby, which will be a  comfort, but I imagine that it won’t be easy for a single woman at the time to be a single mother. Besides, Bob’s parents, especially his mother, don’t like her and were against their son’s marriage. Bob’s parents are wealthy; they are Lord and Lady Beaverbrook, so that’s one of the things that worried Laura about her marriage to Bob… their differences in status. I thought that maybe Bob’s parents could be linked to Helen, but they have different names, so I guess that’s not the link. I imagine that there’ll be a link at some point. Will Laura be Helen’s lost daughter? Maybe Anne lied about Laura being her birth daughter; I can see that she’s a hard woman, ready to do anything for Laura and those she loves, so I shouldn’t be surprised if Laura didn’t know anything about her real origins. And what will happen when Laura reveals her pregnancy? Will they tell Bob’s parents? I also have the feeling that Bob’s best friend Steve has a thing for Laura, and Bob asked him to look after her. Will he be more to Laura? Might he marry her to shield her reputation?

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