Roma Tearne’s sixth novel is set against the backdrop of the last few days of peace before the Second World War was declared. Only 13-year old Cecilia’s life is not all that peaceful, amongst the comings and goings of Palmyra Farm. Her elder brother, Joe, is in love with Franca. the daughter of the Molinello family which runs the ice cream parlour in Bly. At night her sister, Rose, climbs down the honeysuckle bush out into the dark, whilst her mother seems distracted. Added to the fact that Selwyn, her father, is often kept away from home by his various responsibilities and her Aunt Kitty seems to have taken against Rose, Cecilia’s life is complex. Pinky Wilson is surveying the land for war use, Bellamy the farm hand is always hanging around and Tom has already been evacuated from the city to Palmyra. Cecilia eavesdrops a lot, listening in on the conversations around her, trying to make sense of what is going on.
29 years later, Cecelia has returned to Palmyra, haunted by fragments of the past. Rose is dead; she died during that 1939 summer, in tragic circumstances. As Cecilia pieces together her own recollections and finds some long-hidden family documents, the truth about Rose’s death is gradually revealed.
I’ve been mulling over my review for a couple of days since I finished ‘The Last Pier‘. On the one hand, I can appreciate Tearne’s exquisite writing; she has a turn of phrase which is often arresting and unexpected, but perfect in the choice of words she uses to convey a fleeting moment, a glance or an emotion. Her writing has an ethereal quality to it which is almost dreamlike. However, I found the writing almost too subtle. It was difficult to follow the plot, the threads joining together the elements of the story were very finely spun in some places, leaving me uncertain even at the end about what had actually happened.
In conclusion, all I can say is that ‘The Last Pier‘ didn’t really hit the spot for me. However, I would not want to put anyone off reading the novel, as its literary qualities are clearly not in question. I only hope that as Roma Tearne lives in Oxford, she doesn’t recognise me in Broad Street one day and deck me. Mind you, judging by her prose, she is far too elegant to do such a thing: she could probably knock me for six with a single, well-chosen sentence.
Thanks to NetGalley for my copy of the book.