A review of The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell

Reviewed by Lorraine Dobbie

The Shadow Year
Hannah Richell
Hatchette Australia
Paperback, ISBN: 9780733630507, May 2013, 416 pages

When five University students face their graduation from Engineering, Journalism, Law, Environmental Studies and Social work, they feel reluctant to join the treadmill of commerce in Thatcher’s Britain in 1980.  Kat and her housemates had developed a real sense of belonging in their shambolic student house.  A celebratory picnic in the remote Peak district leads them to an abandoned stone cottage by a lake complete with barn, jetty and boat.  The object of Kat’s unrequited love, the fickle Simon, suggests they drop out of city life and move into the cottage to live a natural life of self-sufficiency where shelter, fresh water and produce from the land are on tap.  They all opt for his “experiment” .

Lila, thirty years later, arrives at the same cottage when an anonymous benefactor sends her the key and deeds to the property.  After a serious fall, she has miscarried her first baby and her marriage is on shaky ground.  The isolation of the cottage, offers solace in her deep grief and she sets about using her interior design skills to renovate the dilapidated house. Alone in the cottage, strange dreams, fragments of broken memories, a sense of déjà vu and a feeling “that something happened here” haunt her.

Richel’s Prologue acts as a teaser of what is to come, opens up a sense of mystery and establishes in the reader’s mind the setting of lake and cottage.  The lake and cottage are almost characters in their own right…eerie, atmospheric with hidden secrets.  Her lyrical descriptions of the botanical beauty of the English countryside throughout the shifting seasons is a reminder of the healing power of Nature and also its power to destroy.  It is in this setting that the dual tragedies unfold as each character faces the practical, ethical and moral dilemmas they have inherited from the past.  She builds up tension by releasing the story in carefully crafted chapters told from two different perspectives of the events which happen in the two different periods of time. Throughout the read it is impossible not to be constantly trying to draw the threads together, make connections and unravel the tale.  The Epilogue is sure to leave the reader gob-smacked by the twist.  A must-read!

About the reviewer: Lorraine Dobbie works as a teacher/librarian in the Independent Learning Centre of a leading private Girls High School in Sydney, Australia. In this role she teaches Research Skills and Literature appreciation. She has had a Literature unit of work published for teachers which used a novel study as a vehicle to teach Asian Studies in the English classroom. Her passion is to instil a love of reading to the students in her classes through the promotion of quality novels. She is a regular reviewer for Fiction Focus, an Australian magazine which is published by the Western Australia Dept. of Education. A recent book she reviewed, The Secret Diaries of Charlotte Bronte by Syrie James inspired her to create a book trailer about that novel as a tribute to the Brontes. http://www.syriejames.com/videos.php She aspires to be a professional book editor/reviewer/trailer creator.