The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings (2018)

An author who can set a book in a place close to home that I know very well and at a time when I could have been there, when I could have brushed shoulders with one of her characters, and hold me through the whole story without ever doubting that her characters lived and breathed, that the events she writes about happened, is an author I am very glad to have met.

It takes more than authenticity to make a good book of course, and this book has much more than that. It has a wonderful understanding of character and relationships and it has an absorbing story where there is always something in the air; something like a great storm at sea moving closer and closer to the Cornish coast ….

In  July 1986 Tamsyn was a teenager, living with her mother, her brother and her ailing grandfather in the small town of  St Just in the far west of Cornwall. They were a close family but money was tight, jobs were few since the mine had closed, and they were still coming to terms with the absence of Tamsyn’s beloved father, a lifeboat man who was lost at sea during a rescue.

He had taken Tamsyn on walks along the coastal path, spotting birds, observing familiar landmarks, and admiring the beautiful art deco Cliff House. It was the second home of Davenport family, who lived in London and usually only visited for occasional weekends. Secure in that knowlege, Tamsyn and her father would even swim in the Cliff House’s pool.

Tamsyn continued to walk alone, and she observed the Cliff House more and more carefully. She is was entranced as she watched Mr and Mrs Davenport,  she was sure that their lives were quite perfect, and she wished that there was a way for her to step into their world.

When Edie Davenport, the daughter Tamsyn had never seen before and didn’t know existed, caught her swimming in the pool Tamsyn was horrified. But Edie was amused, and she was pleased to meet someone who might be a friend for the long summer holiday that her parents has decided to spend in Cornwall.

They were unlikely friends, but each girl was lonely and isolated and needed the other; and each girl had something that the other lacked. Tamsyn was drawn to the wealth and glamour of the Cliff House, but Edie’s life there was far from happy and she loved the natural warmth and welcome that she found in Tamsyn’s family home.

The drawing of that friendship is beautifully balanced, and I found that I could emphasise with each girl. Tamsyn is still grieving for her father and she is unhappy that her mother’s friendship with a local man might become a romance; while Edie is burdened by a family situation that she is unable to talk about.

I was particularly taken with Tamsyn’s mother; the portrayal of her as a mother, a young widow, a woman who knew that her children were growing up and that she still had a life ahead of her was pitch perfect.

Everything rings true.

The whole world of this book is beautifully evoked. I can’t quite place the Cliff House, but I can believe in two girls a few years younger than me, in everything that happened around them, in the whole story that played out just a few miles away from me.

I was completely drawn in, I cared and I wanted to know what would happen, and so I turned the pages quickly.

The only thing I didn’t  care for was the symbolism of the raven and the hints of what lay years in the future. It felt clumsy and it was a distraction from the story of what happened in the summer of 1986.

Tamsyn’s involvement with the Cliff House – and the presence of her brother Jago, who is burdened by his grief for his father and his inability to step up and be the man of the family in a time and place when there are no jobs and no prospects for young men – led to a chain of events that would have unimagined and unintended consequences for two families.

The story moved slowly and steadily, and I love the way that it twisted and turned.

It spoke profoundly the gulf between rich and poor, the impact on rural communities of economic decline, and the effects of bereavement, loss and grief.

It spoke of how different what we see on the surface and what lies beneath can be; and where the line between love and obsession, between reason and madness, might lie.

I loved it from the first page to the last.

11 thoughts on “The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings (2018)

  1. I just bought “The Cliff House” and am awaiting it to be delivered from the UK. I can’t wait to read it. I love books set in Cornwall, but not all of them are well written, and having read Amanda’s other recent novel, I have faith in those skills being put to work to evoke Cornwall and a great story! Thanks for this blog-I do love it as well!


    1. This is a beautifully executed book. The relationship between Tamsyn and Edie is central, all of the characters were very well drawn, but I found Amanda Jenning’s understanding of Tamsyn’s mother particularly striking.

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  2. Thank you, Jane! I value your good opinion of a book and excitedly opened up another tab to my library’s website…lo and behold we actually have it on order. Cornwall as a setting will have to do until I get there in person.


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