“‘It’s not about winning, or losing. The ceremony is about our relationship with our surroundings. We need the bees to survive, and they need us to survive. Once you understand that, you understand the history of Vanes, you understand our family.'”The Beloved Girls, by Harriet Evans
At the start of “The Beloved Girls” by Harriet Evans, it is 2018, and Catherine Christophe is a barrister with a well-ordered life and a happy, ordinary family. But all is not as it seems; on returning from a family holiday from France after a disastrous case in which she has failed to save a young man accused of murder from conviction, the Christophe family find that their house has been broken into and Catherine’s study ransacked. This triggers a chain of events that starts to unravel Catherine’s carefully created life.
In 1989 we meet 18-year-old Janey Lestrange. Still reeling from the recent loss of her father Simon, she is invited to spend the summer with old family friends the Hunters at their country home, Vanes. Sylvia Hunter was Simon’s ward, and is keen to welcome Janey into her household, despite the apparent reluctance of the other Hunter family members; Sylvia’s cold and tyrannical husband Charles, the twins Kitty and Joss, and younger sister Merry. Alone in the world with her father gone and an indifferent, re-married mother, Janey is desperate to fit in, to the extent that she is willing to overlook the oddities of the Hunter’s lives. Vanes has been their home for several generations, and each year they carry out a traditional ceremony – the Collecting, in which they and many local villagers process to a chapel in the grounds of Vanes to collect honey from the bee hives that have been there for 200 years. Janey is delighted to be asked to take part in the ceremony as one of the Beloved Girls, but as the summer progresses the atmosphere of Vanes becomes more and more oppressive, and disaster seems inevitable…
“The Beloved Girls” moves between different time periods to tell the stories of its various protagonists from their own perspective – Catherine in 2018, Janey and Kitty in 1989, and Simon in 1959. I have sometimes found in books that move around like this that I race through certain sections to get back to the story/characters I’m most interested in. But this was not the case here, with each section enthralling me equally; the different parts could almost be novels in their own right, such was the depth of the characters and my interest in their lives. The overarching mystery of the book (which I won’t spoil for people here!) was wonderfully done, and the claustrophobic atmosphere and tension builds to breaking point as the story progresses. The author managed to make bees and honey incredibly menacing! This is not a book to start late in the evening, as once I started reading I found it impossible to put down. I will be thinking about this book for a long time, and would highly recommend it – a 5-star (or rather, 5-cat!) read for me.
“The Beloved Girls” is released this week, on the 19th August. Many thanks to NetGalley, Headline Review and of course the author for providing an ebook copy.
Rating: 🐈🐈🐈🐈 🐈 /5