Title: The Sea Gate
Author: Jane Johnson
Publisher: 4th June 2020 by Head of Zeus
Pages: 448 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction, women’s fiction
My Rating: 4 cups
A broken family, a house of secrets—an entrancing tale of love and courage set during the Second World War.
After Rebecca’s mother dies, she must sort through her empty flat and come to terms with her loss. As she goes through her mother’s mail, she finds a handwritten envelope. In it is a letter that will change her life forever.
Olivia, her mother’s elderly cousin, needs help to save her beloved home. Rebecca immediately goes to visit Olivia in Cornwall only to find a house full of secrets—treasures in the attic and a mysterious tunnel leading from the cellar to the sea, and Olivia, nowhere to be found.
As it turns out, the old woman is stuck in hospital with no hope of being discharged until her house is made habitable again. Rebecca sets to work restoring the home to its former glory, but as she peels back the layers of paint and grime, she uncovers even more buried secrets—secrets from a time when the Second World War was raging, when Olivia was a young woman, and when both romance and danger lurked around every corner...
A sweeping and utterly spellbinding tale of a young woman’s courage in the face of war and the lengths to which she’ll go to protect those she loves against the most unexpected of enemies.
‘For a moment it seemed as if the world shifted on its axis and she felt like a foreigner in her own village. They were so wrong, so dangerously wrong, and she had been right all along.’
Always up for a good dual time narrative, The Sea Gate ticks all the boxes venturing into Cornwall during WWII to the present day. Here is a story with strong characters involved in a family drama with some well kept secrets that lead to a present day mystery.
The character of Olivia is the constant player in both timelines and boy! what a character she is! From a present day feisty 90 year old, to life in Cornwall as a teenager - she is overflowing with confidence and attitude - but her life has not been an easy one and the author does a fabulous job of digging deeper to see beyond the crotchety old lady persona. The characters, along with the plot, are complex and engaging. Even the parrot with the foul mouth needs to be included here. What is not to love about an old house with secrets and old Olivia telling Rebecca about her younger self during the war years. There is real growth for all the main players over the course of the story to entice the reader.
‘Of course real life wasn’t like that. She couldn’t see a future for the two of them, not here, or anywhere, so she tried not to think about the future at all.’
Cornwall comes alive with detailed descriptions of sea breezes and secret coves. The plot is well thought out with lots of interconnecting pieces across both timelines that come together for a climactic conclusion. I thought it was cleverly constructed and the mystery has a super twist at the end that you will not see coming. There are multiple themes at play here from abandonment and abuse, to survival and self discovery, with subterfuge and violent confrontations. Jane is to be commended for giving purposeful consideration to all these aspects along with the added light relief of humour and a foul mouthed parrot!
With so much going on it takes awhile to get going but by the end I was hooked. The depth of the intrigue I was not expecting but once again Jane weaves it all together beautifully. From the outfall of evacuees and war time prisoners, to interracial relationships, to murder and misdemeanours to caring for the elderly. When you sit back, there is a lot going on but somehow she makes it all blend together.
‘A seagull screeches overhead and when I look up I am dazzled by the golden light haloing its wings against the sky; and all at once Cornwall saves me.’
My fascination with Cornwall continues as it seems to be the perfect location for many a story with its rugged backdrop often being matched by an equally compelling storyline. The key figure here is the strength of character of Olivia who shines in both timelines and makes The Sea Gate a compelling read.
‘I turn on my phone and find the photo I took of The Sea Gate and show it to her. ‘It’s so beautiful, and so sad. Tell me, Cousin Olivia, are you the “OK Painter”? It is you, isn’t it?’
This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release.