The farm sits with its back towards the Atlantic; a long stretch of granite, hunkering down. For over 300 years it has stood here, steeped in the history and secrets of one family. A farm at the very edge of the world.
1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer's daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war. But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour - but has she left it too late?
2014, and Maggie's granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn't wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?
The Farm at the Edge of the World by Sarah Vaughan is published in hardback on 30 June by Hodder & Stoughton and is the author's second novel. I reviewed her first book, The Art of Baking Blind on Random Things in August last year.
When I reviewed Sarah Vaughan's debut, The Art of Baking Blind last year, I said that I looked forward to reading more from this author. Well, here is is, almost a year later, and it has certainly been worth the long wait. The Farm at the Edge of the World is absolutely beautifully written, it's a story that holds the reader enthralled, from first page to last.
I have a real fondness for a dual-time story, and this one is done particularly well, spanning the seventy years from World War II, to the present day. Sarah Vaughan weaves the stories from both eras together incredibly well, growing her vibrant characters so very well. They creep into the reader's life and stay there, long after the last page is turned.
The glorious setting of Skylight Farm, set on the edge of the hill, with nothing between it and the fierce Atlantic ocean is poetically and artfully described, giving a sense of place and a feel for the Cornish countryside that makes the farm, and Cornwall characters in themselves. Sarah Vaughan doesn't just recreate the summery, sunshine-filled Cornwall of happy holiday memories though, she also shows her readers the darkness and desolation of the wide open spaces and the raging sea, and she does it so very well.
Alice and Will are young evacuees, sent from London to Skylark Farm to escape the bombs of London. Both of them embrace their new life in the countryside. Will soon realises that life on the farm is his destiny and is determined to stay. Alice, younger and quieter is thrilled with the open spaces and the wild rabbits in the fields. Both of them are taken under the wing of Maggie, the daughter of the house, who teaches them how to be a child in the country.
Life on Skylark Farm is uninterrupted by the horrors of war, although local families have lost their sons and brothers in the conflict. Life and farming carries on, it's hard work and often bloody and cruel, but Will and Alice are happy. Relationships change as the years pass by, and in the long, hot summer of 1943, life for all of them will change forever.
Fast forward to 2014, and Maggie is still at Skylark Farm. Farming is a tough business to be in nowadays, and she and her daughter Judith are determined to protect their legacy from rich developers who would like nothing more than to turn their home into a holiday complex. Maggie's granddaughter Lucy joins their fight when she flees London, and her failing marriage and career, and arrives back at the farm that she calls home.
Maggie has lived with the consequences of the events of 1943 for all of her life, she's sometimes very bitter, she finds it very hard to express love towards her family, Alice too has regretted her actions for many years and it's her decision to try and atone for what she has done that reveals the dark secrets that have been hidden for so many years.
Sarah Vaughan is a very clever author. She's created a story based on love, guilt, regret and pain that is, at times quite heart breaking. She's captured the feelings and emotions of her characters, both as young people just starting out in the world, and also when they are in the last years of their lives.
Convincing, compelling, strong and charismatic characters, The Farm at the Edge of the World is absolutely captivating, I loved it.
My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review.
Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. After two years at the Press Association, she spent 11 years at the Guardian as a news reporter, health correspondent and political correspondent, and then started freelancing.
The Farm at the Edge of the World is her second novel.
Sarah lives near Cambridge with her husband and two young children.
Find out more about Sarah Vaughan and her writing at www.sarahvaughanauthor.com
Find her Author page on Facebook
Follow her on Twitter @SVaughanAuthor