This impressive debut transported me back to Greece. Saying books transport you can very often be an exaggeration, or at very least an overused phrase, but Jan Baynham’s writing is such that it really made me feel as though I was there.
I love Greece and in the late eighties and early nineties (when the later part of the book is set) I spent most of my holidays there. The tiny islands, buzzing villages, friendly tavernas and crisp, clean rooms were as much a feature of my past as they are this book and maybe that was part of the reason it sang to me. As I read, in my mind the island was Spetses, one of the Saronic islands off the Peloponnese. I must ask Jan if it was.
But memories will only transport you so far. What takes you the rest of the way is excellent writing. The ability to weave a setting from words without the descriptions overtaking the story is a real skill and this book shines because of it.
The characters are fascinating too. For me, the 1969 ones in particular, when Elin spends her father’s legacy to attend an art school on the island. Each person is carefully drawn and none of them are wasted in what they bring to the plot. I was pulled into Elin’s story, the friendships she forms, the enemies she inadvertently makes and the love she finds; the shocking reason it doesn’t all end as she would have wished.
For a dual timeline (Elin in 1969 and her daughter Alexandra in 1991) the structure is unusual in that after a few opening chapters straight after Elin’s death the book tells first her story and then Alexandra’s. But I can see it needed to be that way for the story to unfold in the correct manner. And it was refreshing not to be hopping about in time too.
I would thoroughly recommend Jan Baynham’s Her Mother’s Secret. It was published by Ruby Fiction last month as an ebook across all major formats.
Find out more about Jan and her writing here: http://janbaynham.blogspot.com/