She ignores the pain in her ribs and focuses instead on the thud of her heart as she moves closer. The baby’s lips are pursed now, opening and closing, suckling in her sleep. A fly buzzes over the pram’s canopy, then lands on the pink blanket and creeps towards the baby’s face. Lila takes another step forward, fighting the urge to swat it away. Somewhere inside she registers the cold hollow of her heart. It would be so easy.
Lila Bailey has lost her baby following a tragic accident. While she copes with her grief by staying at home and taking occasional trips to the park, a letter arrives containing a key and the news of an anonymous gift of land on the edge of the Peak District.
When she and her husband, Tom, arrive there, she discovers a cottage long since abandoned:
Above the mantle is a dusty collection of candle stumps jammed into the necks of empty glass bottles, each melted into its own uniquely twisted form. There’s a stack of old books and a curled pack of playing cards, a mildewed box of Scrabble, a chess set and a copy of Thoreau’s Walden still splayed upon the surface, as if its owner had just put it down for a moment and walked out of the room to make a cup of tea.
Who lived there? Why did they abandon it? And why does it, as Tom says ‘…feel as though something happened there’.
The parallel narrative tells the tale of five students – Mac, Ben, Carla, Simon and Kat. Close to the end of their studies and facing an uncertain future in Thatcher’s 1980, they plan a day out:
‘There’s a place…’ he hesitates, ‘…a lake. Out in the countryside. I went there once when I was a kid.’
And so the following day, they all squash into Mac’s clapped-out Fiesta and head to the lake. After a day of communing with nature, the group decide they’re going to drop out of society and spend a year living in the cottage they’ve discovered there.
The Shadow Year follows a year in the lives of both Lila and the five students (although told from the point of view of Kat), thirty years apart.
The difficulty with the dual narrative is whether you reveal the link between the two stories early, or leave the reader guessing at the risk that they’ll guess too early. I thought I’d figured the link out fairly early on. I had but there were far more twists to the story than I’d anticipated.
The Shadow Year will draw you in to the world of the lake and the cottage and keep you turning the pages until all its secrets, Lila’s secrets and the gang of student’s secrets have been revealed.
Thanks to Orion for the review copy.