Curiosity Cottage on Memory Lane is throwing open its doors as a peaceful retreat … an escape from the stresses of life … in the beautiful Cornish seaside town of Pengelley. After the madness of 2020 it sounded like an idyllic way to unwind!
contemporary fiction | magical realism | romance
Tucked away amongst the winding, cobbled streets of Pengelly in Cornwall, the old stone cottage on Memory Lane is full of secrets. Brimming with trinkets and treasures, there are thousands of stories hidden within its walls.
Fifty-four-year-old Grace Clarke arrives in Pengelly determined to uncover the secrets of her past. Standing outside the little cottage, she feels sure that the answers she craves lie inside. The truth about her mysterious long-lost mother and the even more mysterious gifts she was born with …
Author – Celia Anderson | Published by Harper Collins on 17th September 2020 | 456 Pages (kindle)
I would like to thank HarperCollins UK / HarperFiction and #NetGalley for providing me with an advance copy of #TheCottageofCuriosities in return for an honest review.
The Cottage of Curiosities is the story of Grace’s quest to discover who her birth mother was, and why she gave her up to two strangers. She’s also rather keen to find out if her mother, or father, share her gift for being able to read people’s memories. To Grace, it’s a purposeless curse, one that’s controlled her since she was a child and has forced her into a solitary life.
When we first ‘meet’ Grace she’s enduring a long train journey from Birmingham to Cornwall, bombarded by the myriad memories of her fellow passengers. Grace’s birth mother, May, wrote a letter for her child and entrusted it to Harry and Audrey to pass on to her when they felt the time was right … something they didn’t do for fifty four years. May was living in the small Cornish seaside town of Pengelley when she wrote the letter all those years ago, and Grace is hoping she might be able to pick up the threads of her story there.
As can only happen in the wonderful world of fiction, May’s old cottage is now being run as a retreat, and Grace has booked herself a room for the duration of her stay. May bequeathed the cottage to Emily, the granddaughter of her closest friend; the fact she had a daughter of her own is a secret she didn’t share with anybody. The cottage is still full of May’s belongings, and Grace feels certain it’s the perfect place to uncover her roots.
Grace isn’t the only guest at the cottage: she will be sharing her days there with James who she coincidentally bumped into on the train, travelling with his granddaughter. James appears to be in the early stages of dementia and is hoping a stay at the cottage will help him keep the worst symptoms at bay. The author has captured James’s character, and his relationship with this granddaughter, with a tender, sympathetic clarity. His story is bitter sweet, and also rather thought provoking. The friendship between Grace and James is heartwarming, and it soon becomes clear that James will help Grace start to enjoy life and embrace spontaneity.
During her stay, Grace finds herself growing to like Emily, and she’s soon helping Emily to research and unravel a family mystery of her own. As the book progresses, so too does the realisation that the two women’s stories are more closely linked than either of them could ever have known.
The Cottage of Curiosities is peopled by quite a large cast of characters; with familial ties and local friendships that occasionally had me flicking back through the pages to remind myself who was who. A large proportion of these characters are also ‘main’ characters – not just peripheral – and I found it tricky to keep track of then all. Perhaps this could just be because I read the book over Christmas and was in a mince-pie-induced fug.
Of all the book’s characters, the one I felt I warmed to most was actually May. But May sadly died before Grace arrived in Pengelley, so her character only lives through the memories and recollections of the town’s residents, her friends and neighbours. She comes across as eccentric, bright, outspoken, sparky, and hugely independent. Before long, Grace’s gift of reading memories develops, and she finds that her mother’s belongings carry the vivid echoes of May that she’s so desperately seeking.
I was struck by the immediacy of the book’s opening chapter – it held the promise of a well-paced story with some intriguing subplots and likeable characters. But as I progressed further into the book I never got the impression I was getting to know the characters any better than their first appearance. There didn’t seem to be much character development; instead it was the plot, the various storylines, and the really lovely setting that drove the book forwards.
The Cottage of Curiosities is a charming, heart-warming book, set in a very nicely written location. Whilst I didn’t find myself warming to the characters quite as the author hoped, I would still say I enjoyed this story.
Celia Anderson lives slap bang in the middle of the Midlands and dreams of owning a cottage by the sea, or at the very least on a canal or river. She makes do with living next door to a pond full of ducks but often manages to sneak more impressive watery places into her writing. Celia loves walking, reading, having large bubbly baths, eating and drinking wine. Over the years, she has found that all of these activities bar the first may be done simultaneously, although this can be messy. Previously a teacher and assistant head, she now writes full time and keeps her feet on the ground by running children’s clubs that mainly involve drama and cake.