Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Wildflowers by Harriet Evans

Harriet Evans cut her novel writing teeth on chick lit, but her later books are stories around family secrets, atmospheric old houses and the kind of eccentric characters that often people British literature.

In The Wildflowers, the setting is largely the Bosky, the summer home of the Wildes, a family of show-biz people who live up to their name. The house was built by Anthony Wilde’s grandfather, a problem gambler who gave his family periods of high life one minute, and penury the next.

Anthony is the greatest stage actor of his era, but as the story flips back in time, we discover the tragedy of his childhood when the war robbed him of his parents. About to be sent into foster care, Anthony is rescued by his Aunt Dinah, just come from Basra having abandoned her archaeological work to bring Anthony to the Bosky.

The warm relationship that develops between them is a highpoint in the story, but it is short lived when Anthony is parcelled off to boarding school and his aunt vanishes. The secret of Dinah’s disappearance isn’t explained until the final pages, but many more mysteries emerge as the novel progresses.

Another story thread focuses on Anthony’s children: precocious Cordelia and her sensitive brother Ben. The warmth and glamour that surrounds the Wildes make them seem the perfect family to young Madeleine, a child abandoned by her unhappy father at the big house behind the Bosky. Madeleine unashamedly spies on the Wildes until she is eventually adopted by them over several summers.

But as the decades pass, things are not so happy for the Wildes. Cordelia is cut off from her family; Anthony is unwell, his career fading as Althea’s star rises. The childhood trauma suffered by Anthony, and later Madeleine, has lasting effects while the damage caused by infidelity and misunderstandings on subsequent generations adds loads of tension.

The Wildflowers looks at the cost of a life of fame, and how all is not what it seems for those in the spotlight. It is a well-written and engaging drama with well-rounded characters, evocative settings and emotional power – a little melodramatic at times, but a good read nevertheless.

Posted by JAM

Catalogue link: The Wildflowers

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