This atmospheric story is set on the coast of Cornwall in 1986 where we meet the shy and unhappy Tamsyn as she perches on the cliff-top spying on the comings and goings at the Cliff House. The summer holidays have started and Tamsyn leaves her brother sleeping, sneaks the spare key her mother has to clean the house and resolves to have a proper look inside the house.
This book is mesmerising mainly because of the lyrical prose set against the chilling background of the rich Edie’s friendship with poor Tamsyn. Tamsyn is still struggling to come to terms with her father’s death, the poverty the family are experiencing as the local tin mine shut leaving her brother out of work with no real prospect of finding something to replace it. Tamsyn’s mother juggles jobs but is tiring of just managing and has begun to forge a new relationship. Tamsyn is less than happy with this being as she is full of grief and the angst of being a sixteen year old girl who is somewhat obsessed with the house and its occupants.
Edie has been expelled from her boarding school when the family decamps for an entire summer in the back of beyond in Cornwall. Away from everyone and everything she knows she feels adrift especially as things behind the windows are not as Tamsyn imagines them to be. The meaning of life really isn’t found by the expensive scarf discarded by the swimming pool on the terrace, or the jewels or even the fame the family enjoy because Max Davenport is a best-selling author. Edie is far more worldly-wise than Tamsyn and yet the two forge an often uncomfortable relationship as the summer progresses.
This isn’t a book full of fast-moving action, it is one where the characters lead the way towards a darker and darker heart. We have the imagery, the black raven being the main one which Tamsyn is sure foretells disaster, after all she saw one before her father died, one night at sea in a terrible storm. The relationships between the well-to-do Davenports and Edie, her brother Jago all bind them tighter together, often unwillingly but always inevitably.
The contrast between the families is stark, the descriptions of Tamsyn’s mother unfolding her bed as she’d given up the room she shared with her husband to his elderly father. The lack of money for anything more than the bare necessities are scattered throughout the book without ever becoming ‘shouty’ something that isn’t required when Tamsyn is given her first glass of champagne by Max Davenport at Cliff House.
Reading The Cliff House I felt drawn into Tamsyn’s obsession with the house and its owners and as the girls negotiate their uneven friendship I felt for her with her obvious feeling of inferiority but Edie doesn’t get things all her own way and she has her own problems that she’s trying to hide. Before we close the book, not only do we see how the summer ended, and even better a peak at what happened next.
I have to commend Amanda Jennings on her story-telling; whilst this is a different type of tale to In Her Wake, it is also makes for compulsive reading including as it does the hat-trick of superbly drawn characters, an atmospheric yet changeable setting and a darkness that enthralled this reader.
I am very grateful to the publishers HQ for allowing me to read an advance copy of The Cliff House prior to publication on 17 May 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.