The Cliff House by Amanda Jennings: With a finale as jaw-dropping and devastating as one would expect from this accomplished writer, The Cliff House is a simply unmissable read - book review -

The Cliff House
The Cliff House
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Adolescent longing turns to dangerous obsession in a blistering literary thriller set against a magnificent mansion perched on a clifftop at Sennen Cove on the western tip of Cornwall.

Adolescent longing turns to dangerous obsession in a blistering literary thriller set against a magnificent mansion perched on a clifftop at Sennen Cove on the western tip of Cornwall.

Amanda Jennings, who turned heads with her bestselling debut Sworn Secret and has since written acclaimed novels, The Judas Scar and In her Wake, makes a welcome return to the corner of the country she loves best for a dark and devastating tale of desire, duplicity, jealousy and possession.

Featuring an unlikely friendship between two teenage girls – from opposite sides of the tracks but both isolated and embittered – The Cliff House is a haunting, addictive page-turner which unfolds against the summer of 1986.

Jennings has a self-confessed fascination with family life, the far-reaching effects of trauma, and the different ways people cope with loss, and in this exquisitely written, perfectly paced drama, events play out in the style of a contemporary Shakespearean tragedy with a backdrop painted in sunshine blues and golds.

It’s six years since loner Tamsyn’s beloved father was killed at sea but the hurt, bitterness and grief have never gone away. In an almost daily ritual during the long summer holidays of 1986, she takes her dad’s binoculars and spies on the Davenports who, with their fast cars and glamorous clothes, are living the dream in Cliff House, their stunning, white-walled holiday home overlooking the sea.

‘I spy perfection,’ thinks 16-year-old Tamsyn, as she sets her sights on the perfect family in their perfect home, and wishes that her life was as perfect as theirs.

And Tamsyn has a secret… in happier days, when her dad was alive, the two of them would sneak into the grounds of Cliff House, where her mother Angie is the cleaner, and swim in the ornate pool on a terrace overlooking the sea.

One glorious morning, she takes her mother’s key, lets herself into Cliff House and dives into the pool, only to discover that someone is watching. Edie Davenport, also aged 16, has been expelled from school and returned home earlier than expected.

Edie, with her Goth clothes, aggressively short hair and painfully thin body, radiates ‘an aristocratic confidence’ and Tamsyn feels a sudden ‘surge of irrational jealousy,’ but Edie is lonely too. Her father is a bestselling author who barely knows she exists, her mother is ‘gummed up’ with pills and booze, and ‘if life were a poker game, she’d swap her whole hand of cards.’

Bored, restless Edie is drawn to Tamsyn’s innocence, and Tamsyn can’t believe that she has at long last got an entry to the enviable lives of the golden Davenport family… but, as the summer wears on, it seems some friendships were just made to be broken.

The Cliff House is a simmering, shimmering, slow-burn thriller but it still packs a powerful punch as readers are drawn into the corrosive and compulsive relationship between two emotionally damaged girls.

And this is truly a tale of contrasts… darkness and bright light, rich and poor, truth and lies, beauty and downright ugliness all have parts to play in Jennings’ atmospheric and twisted tale which explores obsession in all its chilling complexity against a stunning landscape of sea, sand and sun.

In Tamsyn and Edie, we have the archetypal, disaffected teenagers but although they share the same angst, emotional turmoil and adolescent frustrations, their worlds are vastly different… Edie’s wealth, privilege, luxurious homes and schooling are in stark contrast to Tamsyn’s life which revolves around the ‘local comp,’ low-paid seasonal work, and lack of affordable housing.

As we weave between the present and the summer of 1986, the sense of menace and impending tragedy grows at the same time as our perception of each of the two girls and their uneasy friendship changes with almost every turn of the page.

With a finale as jaw-dropping and devastating as one would expect from this accomplished writer, The Cliff House is a simply unmissable read.

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)