My enormous thanks to Louise Swannell at Headline for sending me a surprise copy of The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. With several of Harriet Evans’ books sitting on my shelf awaiting reading I’m thrilled to be able to share my review of The Beloved Girls today. I also spoke about The Beloved Girls in a recent online event that you can view here.
Published on 19th August 2021, by Headline Review, The Beloved Girls is available for purchase through these links.
The Beloved Girls
‘It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. Half-derelict. The Hunters keep bees in there. Every year, on the same day, the family processes to the chapel. They open the combs, taste the honey. Take it back to the house. Half for them -‘ my father winced, as though he had bitten down on a sore tooth. ‘And half for us.’
Catherine, a successful barrister, vanishes from a train station on the eve of her anniversary. Is it because she saw a figure – someone she believed long dead? Or was it a shadow cast by her troubled, fractured mind?
The answer lies buried in the past. It lies in the events of the hot, seismic summer of 1989, at Vanes – a mysterious West Country manor house – where a young girl, Jane Lestrange, arrives to stay with the gilded, grand Hunter family, and where a devastating tragedy will unfold. Over the summer, as an ancient family ritual looms closer, Janey falls for each member of the family in turn. She and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present . . .
‘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.’
My Review of The Beloved Girls
Vanes is a place of secrets and bees.
I’m not quite sure how Harriet Evans achieved the effect but I was mesmerised by The Beloved Girls, Initially I didn’t warm to Catherine and I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy the book and then suddenly realised that I was totally entranced, drawn in to the story almost against my will until I found it stunning.
Harriet Evans’ writing is incredibly atmospheric. Beautifully crafted sentences are imbued with the senses so that the reader feels truly immersed in the story. I loved the structure of the book because the way the past has impacted on the present is uncovered gradually, affording the reader insight into characters and almost making those readers part of the story too. The references to music in particular brought so many memories back to me as I read that The Beloved Girls felt part of the fabric of who I am. I found this effect both compelling and unnerving. The hot summer of 1989 adds menace and passion so that the entire narrative is overlaid with mystery and suspense.
It’s always difficult to review plot without spoilers but bees, and the Vanes tradition of sharing honeycomb with them, are at the heart of the story. With the sweetness of honey and the potential sting of the bee The Beloved Girls reverberates with threat and potential whilst illustrating the importance of bees in today’s society both on a literal and metaphorical level. The Beloved Girls somehow manages to be a book belonging to now, but also it feels as if it is steeped in tradition and literary heritage too, making it a joy to read.
The themes make The Beloved Girls incredibly impactful because Harriet Evans weaves so much into her narrative that life, death and everything in between is represented here. This gives sumptuous depth but never gets in the way of fabulous storytelling. Family, friendship, relationships of many kinds, identity, trust, tradition, society, crime, education, social class, ambition and so on form their own interlinked honeycomb of meaning in The Beloved Girls making for a very satisfying read.
All the characters are completely authentic to the extent that I felt a strong emotional response to even the most minor of them. I loathed Charles and Giles with a white hot intensity and felt overwhelming concern for Janey, Kitty and Sylvia. In fact, I found that even though men have dominance in the Vanes world, The Beloved Girls is actually quite a feminist book. Harriet Evans does not shy away from difficult topics in her story but she still gives power to her females in a persuasive manner.
From being uncertain at the start, I ended up loving The Beloved Girls. It’s beautifully written, perfectly crafted storytelling at its very best. Don’t miss it.
There’s a Spotify playlist for The Beloved Girls here.
About Harriet Evans
Harriet Evans has sold over a million copies of her books. She is the author of twelve bestselling novels, most recently the Sunday Times Top Ten bestseller The Garden of Lost and Found, which won Good Housekeeping’s Book of the Year, and The Wildflowers, which was a Richard & Judy Book Club selection. She used to work in publishing and now writes full time, when she is not being distracted by her children, other books, crafting projects, puzzles, gardening, and her much-loved collection of jumpsuits. She lives in Bath, Somerset.
There’s more with these other bloggers too: