Publishing year: 2017
I have loved Natalie Meg Evans’s previous books, so I was pretty confident I would enjoy this one. So far the author hasn’t let me down, and I am loving the new story.
The novel starts in 1925, and we get to meet Vanessa, who is five and a half, and his father takes her to the theatre in London after they have visited the doctor for Vanessa’s tonsillitis. We know that Vanessa’s father, Clive, used to be an actor. The play they see is Sleeping Beauty, and after it finishes, Clive takes his daughter backstage. There Clive runs into some people he knows, and they call him Johnnie. Then Vanessa and he step into a room where there is a woman. Clive talks to the woman, who is the wardrobe mistress, and her name is Eva. From the snippets that Vanessa understands, it is clear that Eva used to be his lover. Now what happens next is not clear to me. Clive claims that he has come to see Eva because he wants her to be the witness of Vanessa’s signature, and then he stamps Vanessa’s inked prints on some document, but I am not sure what that must be. When he claims that he is just looking out for Vanessa’s future, Eva contradicts him, saying that he is looking out for his. Then Eva comes forward and gives Vanessa some piece of green ribbon, and in exchange he clips one of Vanessa’s curls, which she puts in some little box.
Time goes and we learn that Clive left his family when Vanessa had surgery for her tonsillitis. Over the years she saw his name in some of the theatre productions, but she never tried to contact him. Then she finally writes to him, but his correspondence is brief. The war breaks out, and Vanessa, who is now 20, joins the women’s auxiliary service. She marries a pilot, who dies a few weeks later. In 1945, just before the war finishes, her father writes to her, asking her to see him about something important. They are to meet in a pub, but when Vanessa gets there, he runs into a man, and neither she nor he recognise each other, so they miss each other. Fifteen days later she gets a telegram from her mother. Her father has died.
Vanessa returns to London for her father’s funeral. She is late, and as she tries to get to the cemetery, she can’t find transport. There is a motorbike and sidecar, which are used as taxi, but the driver tells her that the taxi is already reserved. Since there is one more place in the sidecar and Vanessa is desperate, she tells the occupant that she will travel with him. It turns out that the man goes to the cemetery as well as he is attending another cemetery. Vanessa realises that the man she is sharing transport with is some navy officer, a captain or commander.
The funeral the man is attending is his godfather’s, who is the owner of a theatre. The man is to be buried in a selected part of the cemetery. Vanessa’s father is buried in the cheap part of the cemetery and the only people attending are Vanessa, her mother, and two strangers, a man and a woman, who Vanessa thinks that they must have been friends with her father. Vanessa’s mother, Ruth, is quite cold and stiff with her. Vanessa has the opportunity to talk to the woman also attending the funeral, and she can see that a big part of her face is burnt, so she has to cover it with some lace clothing as if it were a mantilla. The woman turns out to be Eva, the wardrobe mistress, and she hands Vanessa a key that her father wanted her to have, and the only thing Eva tells her is Farren, which we learn is the theatre where her father had worked.
As they are about to leave the cemetery, Vanessa sees the man from the sidecar, whose name is Alistair Redenhall, and he offers to take her and her mother in the car waiting for her. Yet, Vanessa has to decline as she knows that her mother won’t like her. It is clear that Vanessa finds the man very handsome, and there is obvious attraction. When they meet again is when Vanessa is waiting for her train, which is delayed. Alistair notices her bare hands and as it is so cold, he gives her his gloves, and on doing so, Vanessa notices that he has a wedding band, so even though she is aware she likes Alistair, he is out of bounds.
We get to meet Alistair’s wife, Fern, and we get the impression that Fern doesn’t care much about him. There is coldness between them, especially when she mentions that if he were to be unfaithful to her, she would understand. That comment doesn’t sit with him as he takes it as an insult to his beliefs and his effort in the war. Then when the war finishes and Alistair comes home, he expects to find Fern waiting for him at the port as he has written to her. Yet, Fern isn’t there, so he decides to make a phone call, and after several rings the call is answered, and that is the reason why there won’t be happy encounter between husband and wife. I imagine that the call must have been taken by a man, probably Fern’s lover.
Vanessa returns to her hometown and to her mother’s cottage, and she starts working for the lord of the manor, who her father and mother used to work for. Vanessa longs to leave and she starts thinking that she would like to work in the theatre in wardrobe, but so far all her applications have been turned down because of her lack of experience. In the hall Vanessa works as a secretary, and then we get a very vital revelation. Fern, Alistair’s wife, is actually the lord’s sister, and Fern and Vanessa have always been best friends. When the lord tells Vanessa that Fern’s husband has left her, and he mentions his name, Vanessa puts two and two together and realises that Alistair was the man who she has been dreaming of all these months.
The lord tells him that Fern and Alistair are to come to the hall since he has asked them to try to patch things up. Vanessa and her friend meet and talk, but she tells herself that she will make herself scarce when Alistair comes. Yet, when she is tending to the graves of her family in church that Fern and Alistair turn up. The man is upset with Fern as Vanessa finds her almost on the verge of coming to blows, and when he sees Vanessa, he is not very kind. Back in the house Alistair tells him that he has left the navy as he has inherited the theatre, Farren, from his godfather, and he intends to run it himself. This is the place where Vanessa feels she can find her father’s secret. She even tells him that she hopes to leave Starshurst and find a job in the theatre, and not very kindly Alistair says that he hopes they won’t see each other again. Yet, his desire won’t be granted as Vanessa sees an advertisement for a wardrobe master for Alistair’s theatre, and she applies for it even though it is clear that they want a man. Yet, she gets a response and is requested to go to the theatre for an interview.
Very interesting first part. I love Vanessa, and I am dying to know what the key she has from her father opens, and how she and Alistair will get along if she gets a job in his theatre.