I always have to declare an interest when it's a book by Susan Hill. I'm on the Long Barn Books Editorial board and she is a friend and did have me to stay recently after all, and I suppose if it was a turkey of a book I'd just tactfully not say anything, very nice...hmm lovely cover.
Except this is The Beacon and I was fortunate enough to read The Beacon very early on in its pre-publication life and a funny thing happened.
I actually thought it was up there with the best that Susan has written and said so and perhaps she might have just thought I was being nice...but I wasn't, I was being honest and I've been like a cat on a hot tin roof waiting for it to be published to see what others thought so I could say 'I told you so.'
I read the manuscript via my laptop and about an hour later I was in the bath when the essence of the book, that little concealed nugget that Susan is so good at burying in her writing suddenly dawned on me and it was an Archimedes moment if ever there was one. So revelatory that I had to dash out of the bath and down to my laptop to email Susan and tell her.
This is the Prime family born and bred on the hilltop farm the Beacon; four children, hard-working parents and all venturing in different directions. some more ambitious than others, some failing in their ambition and settling for less. It is May who finds herself the spinster at home destined to look after the elderly parents and it is May who we first meet at the death-bed of her mother Bertha. The story weaves cleverly back and forth across time and place as all the gaps are slowly filled in, except there's one big gap, Frank.
Frank, the quiet rather menacing brother who features little in the family narrative. Frank who does get away, makes a life for himself as a journalist and then decides to write a book, a memoir of his life growing up in this family. What happens next is inevitable, the book is going to cause enduring pain to all concerned, but I'll stop there because I think different readers will invest myriad interpretations and to point to any particular one would be to deny the personal experience that reading The Beacon should be.
What plays out before your eyes is a very very clever economical sleight of pen, no over-egging of this pudding, good solid story-telling, beautifully written and yet what lies beneath is left to the reader to fathom so I wonder what conclusions others will reach when they turn that final page?
Who will you believe?
Read to the very very last line and be prepared to close this book with so much uncertainty rumbling around in your mind that you too might have an Archimedes moment, leap out of the bath and e mail your thoughts to the author.