It’s August 1939, and England is on the brink of the Second World War. In Suffolk, thirteen-year-old Cecily is more concerned about first love, growing up and what her beautiful older sister gets up to when she sneaks out of their bedroom window at night. Then tragedy strikes, and as a result Cecily is shipped off to London to live with her aunt.
Years later, Cecily returns to Suffolk and the family farm, now empty, to uncover the secrets buried there and discover what actually happened on that fateful night.
There is a relatively common trend in fiction at the moment for books with a young protagonist who experiences a family tragedy. The details aren’t entirely clear to them at the time, but they return to the scene of this formative event some years later to find out what actually happened and to lay some ghosts to rest. The Last Pier sits firmly within this category, but there are elements of it that set it apart from others.
Setting this against the backdrop of the imminent war works well, and, without going into details which might spoil the novel for others, this element of the novel tied in beautifully with the main storyline, rather than simply providing a backdrop. Similarly, the research into events such as the treatment of immigrant Italians living in the UK at this time shows through, but the historical detail doesn’t take over the story at any point.
Cecily is a complex child, forever in the shadow of Rose, the beautiful older sister who, at sixteen, is going through things that Cecily can’t quite understand, and the sibling rivalry is displayed perfectly. She is a habitual eavesdropper, and yet understands little of what she overhears. At times Cecily did seem to be younger than her thirteen years, although this may be more a sign of the times in which it’s set, when thirteen-year-olds probably were innocent relative to today’s standards. I’m not sure that I liked her, but I did feel sorry for her at times.
I found the writing style a little difficult to get into. It seemed a little disjointed at times, although once I’d adapted to the style, I thought it worked well, as Cecily makes connections between the current day and her memories of that fateful summer.
There was one element to this novel that I found puzzling, although it’s a relatively small thing, and not central to the main story line at all. There is a scene in the novel that closely resembles a scene from The Silence of the Lambs. It’s not a direct copy (I tracked down part of the script from the film to compare the two) – the wording has been changed, and yet it’s so similar that it can’t be a coincidence. I can only assume that it’s meant as a homage to the original. And yet, no reference is made to this in the acknowledgements at all. It seemed a little odd to me – it doesn’t add anything to the story at all, and I found it distracting, as that is now my overriding memory of the novel, which is a shame.
Overall, I enjoyed The Last Pier, and I think that readers who enjoy this particular type of novel will find something a little new in this. Many thanks to Gallic Books for providing a copy for review.