The Shadow Year by Hannah Richell
Published by Orion
Three decades later, Lila arrives at the remote cottage. Bruised from a tragic accident and with her marriage in crisis, she finds renovating the tumbledown house gives her a renewed sense of purpose. But why did the cottage's previous inhabitants leave their belongings behind? And why can't she shake the feeling that someone is watching her?
Okay I admit it, this book has sat on my bookshelf for nearly four years without being read and I cannot think of a single reason why that is. Hannah Richell's second novel tells of five uni friends who are so despondent at being separated after living together that when they discover what appears to be an unowned run-down house hidden in the middle of a wood, they decide to stay there and become self-sufficient for at least a year. Simon, who makes himself the unelected leader of the group, think this will be a utopian moment, a step into Henry Thoreau's Walden. Couple Ben and Carla throw themselves into the mix as best as they can, and Kat, well she will do anything that Simon suggests. Mac is the outsider of the group, the hanger-on that gets invited along for the ride.
The year passes and it's not without it's ups and downs. The winter is harsh and soon the group discover that this journey isn't going to be as easy as they first imagined. Simon is reluctant for them to tell anyone where they are and they are totally reliant on the land for survival. After writing a letter to her younger sister, Kat soon finds Freya on their doorstep begging to be allowed to stay with them. Her arrival will throw the group into a turmoil that they cannot escape from.
Present day sees couple Tom and Lila struggling to reconnect after the loss of their baby daughter as a result of Lila falling down the stairs at their London house. She cannot remember the accident and she remains depressed. A letter from an unknown source arrives out of the blue, informing her that she is now the owner of a cottage (the cottage above) and in order to find herself again, Lila journeys north to see what she has been bequeathed. It is love at fist sight for her and she throws herself in to renovating the cottage, but this too comes at a price, as Tom feels more and more alienated by her behaviour.
Clearly our two stories are entwined within each other but the reader has to go a long way into the book to find out how and why these stories overlap. Hannah Richell keeps the suspense going until the very last page.