The Drowned Village by Kathleen McGurl - book review

Since the Lake District village of Mardale Green was flooded in 1935 to create Haweswater reservoir, it has only rarely emerged from its watery grave.

The Drowned Village by Kathleen McGurl - book review
The Drowned Village by Kathleen McGurl - book review

But in a strange twist of fate, Kathleen McGurl’s spookily prescient novel has been published just two months after this summer’s heatwave once again exposed the long-lost ruins of this tiny hamlet.

The Drowned Village – a haunting and emotional tale of love, loss and betrayal – was inspired by the author’s visit to Haweswater several years ago and her determination to harness the real story of the drowning of Mardale Green into a novel.

The result is an enthralling mystery as, 80 years after members of a close-knit community were forced to leave their homes forever, a drought exposes not just the remnants of the village but dark secrets from the past.

It will take a new generation to unlock the truth behind a shocking family tragedy, and heal old wounds that have festered for decades.

In the summer of 1935, eleven-year-old Stella Walker is reeling from the death of her beloved mother from cancer but soon Stella, along with her father Jed and two-year-old sister Jessie, must prepare to leave their home forever.

Forced to evacuate to make way for the new Bereswater reservoir, the village of Brackendale Green will soon be flooded and lost.

Jed, a mechanic, faces losing his home, his workshop and his business but before the water has even reached them, a dreadful event threatens to tear Stella’s family apart.

In the present day, a fierce summer has dried up Bereswater and revealed the remnants of the deserted village. Stella, now aged over 90 and living in London, is still haunted by her memories and a recurring nightmare.

The uncovering of Brackendale Green could be her last chance to right wrongs in the past and she begs her granddaughter Laura to make the journey she can’t.

Laura, who is reeling from a relationship break-up, is only too happy to head for the Lake District where she hopes the fells will ‘help to heal her soul.’

Joined in her hunt for the truth by a man called Tom who is also researching family who lived in the lost village, Laura must try to find a tea caddy which Stella is sure contains vital clues.

But with only days until the floodwaters start to rise again, Laura is in a race against time to solve the mysteries of Stella’s almost forgotten past...

McGurl has always been fascinated by history, particularly the ways in which the past can influence the present, and this atmospheric and multi-faceted story merges two timelines with her trademark charm and skill.

Moving, compelling, inspired by a fascinating real-life story, and framed by a breathtaking backdrop, The Drowned Village grips from first to last, and will have readers heading for the fells for their own Lakeland journey of discovery.

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)