Rosanna Ley, author of the bestselling novels The Villa and The Little Theatre by the Sea, transports us to Belle-Île-en-Mer, the beautiful island that shimmers in the sea off the coast of France, and into the lives of three young people living in the shadow of childhood events.
Her Mother’s Secret is the ideal sunshine escape, a moving and magical story brimming with rich, lyrical descriptions of a picturesque, sun-drenched island, and packed with romance, emotional intensity and dramatic revelations.
For 15 years Colette Lenoire has lived and worked in Cornwall, avoiding going back to her home and her mother, Thea, on the island of Belle-Île-en-Mer in southern Brittany because she is afraid to confront the painful memories she left behind.
When she receives a letter telling her that her mother is suffering from leukaemia and might not have long to live, Colette realises that the time has come for her to return but it has been a long estrangement with ‘so many things left unsaid’ and Colette is not sure she can ever forgive Thea for events that led to her fisherman father’s death.
Despite Colette’s wariness, the beauty and romance of Belle-Île still fascinate her and she takes over the running of her mother’s beloved flower shop and makes friends with Élodie Blaise from the Old Lighthouse where Thea once worked as a nanny until something caused a lifelong rift between Thea and Élodie’s mother Mathilde.
Also returning to the island after 20 years is the enigmatic Étienne Chevalier, a thriller writer who shares Colette's mixed feelings about Belle-Île, a place he finds full of ‘shadows’ and harrowing memories. Grief-stricken at the recent death of his own mother, Étienne has come to the conclusion that he must revisit the time in his life when everything changed or he would ‘never be free.’
As the frail Thea opens up to Colette for the first time, it becomes clear that the beauty of Belle-Île hides a devastating family secret, one that Colette is determined to unravel at any cost. But can the island be a part of her future when the ghosts of yesterday still linger?
Ley, who has worked as a creative writing tutor for many years, is such an accomplished writer… this perceptive and very human story of love, loss, old secrets and new understandings rolls out gently and exquisitely across a superbly painted canvas and with all the warmth, wisdom and empathy that are the hallmarks of her clever novels.
Each character is carefully drawn and Colette and Élodie’s diverging and revelatory family dynamics play out with subtlety and plenty of surprises as Ley explores the emotional toll of secrets, guilt and refusing to face up to painful truths from the past.
As always, the stunning location plays a key role in this mystery-packed story which is as enchanting as the sea that rolls in over Belle-Île’s sandy coves… and the perfect addition to holiday suitcases this summer.
(Quercus, paperback, £7.99)