EXCERPT: She’s drifting off again, her mind wandering as it always does, back to that time she tried for years to bury. Tonight, against her will, it takes her to a place she has trained herself never to visit. But there is no stopping it now. The memories rush to the surface like bubbles in a bottle of champagne when the cork is popped.
It is spring. The hedgerows are coming into bloom, dusted with powdery white hawthorn flowers. Drifts of yellow primroses sprinkle the bank. She’s not alone. Her arm is tucked inside his. She can feel the smooth cotton of his shirt against her skin. His body is strong and warm next to her, a comforting shield between her and the river. She knows she should feel guilty, she should feel bad about this, but she doesn’t. She can imagine the shock and recriminations that would follow if Mother or Evie were to find out; their wide eyes, their wagging fingers.
She shakes her head, trying to banish the memory. She can feel the tears welling again, aware that they’re tears of self pity and of mourning for what might have been.
ABOUT THIS BOOK: As she looks at the baby wriggling in her father’s arms, a bolt of recognition goes through her and she takes a step back. And it’s in that moment that she begins to protect her father’s secrets.
1934, Weirfield-on-Thames. Connie Burroughs loves living in the orphanage that her father runs. Exploring its nooks and crannies with her sister, hearing the pounding of a hundred pairs of feet on the wooden stairs, having a father who is doing so much good. But everything changes the day she sees him carrying a newborn baby that he says he found near the broken front gate. A baby she recognises…
Present day. Arriving at her father’s beloved cottage beside the river, Sarah Jennings is hoping for peace and quiet, to escape her difficult divorce. But when she finds her father unwell and hunched over boxes of files on the orphanage where he was abandoned as a child, she decides to investigate it herself.
The only person left alive who lived at Cedar Hall is Connie Burroughs, but Connie sits quietly in her nursing home for a reason. The sewing box under Connie’s bed hides secrets that will change Sarah’s life forever, uncovering a connection between them that has darker consequences than she could ever imagine.
MY THOUGHTS: I enjoyed The Orphan House by Ann Bennett, which is a mix of historical and contemporary fiction, moving between the 1930’s and today, Colonial India and England.
It pays to remember, as you read, that the social mores of the 1930s were vastly different to those of today. The father in the household wielded absolute power – his word was law. Having a child out of wedlock was the kiss of death for any young girl hoping to make a ‘decent’ marriage – she was damaged goods – as was having a parent in jail. Thank goodness for India, a place where those not quite socially acceptable, and those who failed to live up to family expectations, could be shipped off to.
And that is where we find Anna, one of the three women who narrate this story. Connie, when we first meet her, is the elderly resident of a retirement home, and her story is told in flashbacks. Sarah is the contemporary woman who buys Connie’s home and discovers the secrets contained within. How does Anna in India connect to Connie and Sarah? That is the mystery…..
While there is nothing startling in the revelations, this is a lovely read, and one that I enjoyed. The characters are well portrayed, as are the historical and emotional aspects.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Ann Bennett was born in a small village in Northamptonshire, UK and now lives in Surrey. Her first book, A Daughter’s Quest, originally published as Bamboo Heart, was inspired by her father’s experience as a prisoner of war on the Thai-Burma Railway. The Planter’s Wife (originally published as Bamboo Island) a Daughter’s Promise and The Homecoming, (formerly Bamboo Road) are also about the war in South East Asia. The idea for The Orphan House came from researching her great-grandfather, Brice Bennett, who was headmaster of a county school for pauper children in Wargrave, Berkshire. The Orphan House and a further WW2 historical novel will be published by Bookouture in 2020. Ann is married with three grown up sons and works as a lawyer.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Orphan House by Ann Bennett for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
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