Weidenfeld & Nicolson|5 April 2018|464 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*
It is summer 1989 and fifteen-year-old Clotilde is on holiday with her parents in Corsica. On a twisty mountain road, their car comes off at a curve and plunges into a ravine. Only Clotilde survives.
Twenty-seven years later, she returns to Corsica with her husband and their sulky teenage daughter. Clotilde wants the trip to do two things – to help exorcise her past, and to build a bridge between her and her daughter. But in the very place where she spent that summer all those years ago, she receives a letter. From her mother. As if she were still alive.
As fragments of memory come back, Clotilde begins to question the past. And yet it all seems impossible – she saw the corpses of her mother, her father, her brother. She has lived with their ghosts. But then who sent this letter – and why?
Every summer Clotilde, her brother, Nicolas and her parents, Paul and Palma Idrissi visit Paul’s parents in Corsica. What really happened in Corsica that last year she was there 27 years ago that led up to the car crash that killed her parents and brother? It had taken her that long to summon up the courage to return to Corsica. Clotilde thinks she knows, but a letter from her mother sets her on a trail to the truth. Her husband and daughter just want her to come to terms with the past, in fact her daughter is not interested in the past and is closer to her father than to her mother. Clotilde’s grandparents are still alive but are reluctant to talk about the accident and the locals seem to resent her presence. As Clotilde delves into her memories she begins to realise that the past is not quite as she thought it was.
The narrative switches between the present and the past – the past told as an unknown person reads Clotilde’s diary that she had been writing about her holiday, her family and friends. She had left the diary behind just before they all set off in the car and after the accident it had disappeared. In it she had recorded what they did as well as her thoughts about her family and friends and their relationships. Some of the friends she had at the time are still in Corsica, most notably Natale, the girl who had fascinated Nicolas so much and she has much to reveal about what happened prior to the car crash.
After a somewhat slow start, I was totally gripped by the story. Just who is this unknown man reading her thoughts on her family and friends? He is worried that she has returned to the island wondering just how far down into the past she will be able to dig, and what secrets she will discover. I had little idea for quite a while. The clues are there but well hidden and there are many twists as one by one secrets are revealed that make Clotilde question everything she thought she knew about her family.
I loved the setting, Corsica is a place I’ve never visited but I could easily see the scenes, helped by the plan showing the Revellata Peninsula, a wild and beautiful coastline, where Clotilde’s grandparents lived, and all the key locations. I loved the way Clotilde wrote in her diary, in which she poured out her thoughts and dreams – describing it as ‘Top Secret and Totally embargoed‘. I loved the drama of the story and the way it only gradually revealed the secrets of the Idrissi family – and what really happened.
Many thanks to Weidenfeld & Nicolson for a review copy via NetGalley.