From the prologue of this book describing the farm and its setting high above the sea on the north coast of Cornwall, I knew I was going to love it. And I was right, it was such a wonderful read. Sarah Vaughan weaves together three generations of women in stories of Cornwall past and present. At the beginning of the Second World War, Will and Alice are evacuated to Skylark Farm, properly Polblazey Farm, where Will works on the land. Maggie is the farmer’s daughter and forms close bonds with both Will and Alice. Then one summer, Will and Maggie’s relationship develops into something stronger and when her mother finds out Will is sent away, devastating Maggie. In the present day, Lucy, Maggie’s granddaughter, returns reluctantly to her childhood home. She needs time and space to consider the future of her marriage and career but the farm holds so many memories of her beloved late father, she has always found it difficult to return. The farm, like many, is struggling to survive yet her grandmother is determined to stay and resists attempts by her son Richard to sell to developers. Why is she so insistent on staying?
The Farm at the Edge of the World is such a beautifully written book. Sarah Vaughan’s way of writing makes her characters seem so real. I found my thoughts turning to them even when not reading. In particular, I was drawn to Maggie. The love she felt for Will came through so strongly and I could empathise with her anguish when he left and she had no way to contact him. Her further heartbreak throughout the intervening years was clear in the Maggie we meet in the present. I can’t imagine what it must have been like for her to live with such sadness all her life, concealing it from her family and yet still clinging on to a small shred of hope. Alice too, must have experienced a lot of guilt over the years at the thought of her part in what happened, though as a young teenager, could hardly be blamed.
Almost a character in itself is Cornwall. This isn’t a romanticised version of Cornwall with sunny skies and blue seas all the time. This is a place which feels real. Sarah Vaughan writes evocatively of the sea in all its moods, whether dark and stormy or blue and tranquil. She does not shy away from the realities of life working on the land. Farming is shown as hard work, relentless, often with despair when crops fail or are ruined by the weather and where illness can decimate the livestock. This is a place where the residents are at the mercy of the elements and life can be harsh.
The Farm at the Edge of the World is a book which had me entranced and reading late into the night to find out what would happen to the characters. It is an exquisitely written story of love, betrayal, heartbreak but also of hope and forgiveness. I loved it from that evocative prologue right to the last pages.
My grateful thanks to the author for providing a review copy of her book via the publishers, Hodder & Stoughton. The Farm at the Edge of the World will be published on 30th June in hardback and as an ebook with the paperback to follow in January 2017. You can order a copy here: The Farm at the Edge of the World
From the back of the book
1939, and Will and Alice are evacuated to a granite farm in north Cornwall, perched on a windswept cliff. There they meet the farmer’s daughter, Maggie, and against fields of shimmering barley and a sky that stretches forever, enjoy a childhood largely protected from the ravages of war.
But in the sweltering summer of 1943 something happens that will have tragic consequences. A small lie escalates. Over 70 years on Alice is determined to atone for her behaviour – but has she left it too late?
2014, and Maggie’s granddaughter Lucy flees to the childhood home she couldn’t wait to leave thirteen years earlier, marriage over; career apparently ended thanks to one terrible mistake. Can she rebuild herself and the family farm? And can she help her grandmother, plagued by a secret, to find some lasting peace?
This is a novel about identity and belonging; guilt, regret and atonement; the unrealistic expectations placed on children and the pain of coming of age. It’s about small lies and dark secrets. But above all it’s about a beautiful, desolate, complex place.