‘The first time I ever saw Castaway House, I knew it was meant to be mine.’
The Mysterious Affair at Castaway House is a dual time novel, with chapters alternating across two different eras: 1924 and 1965.
It all begins in the 20s, when recovering consumptive Robert Carver travels to Castaway House to spend a carefree summer by the sea with his older, more worldly-wise cousin, Alec Brey. The summer takes an unpleasant turn when Robert is caught in the ongoing hostilities between Alec and his wife, Clara, both with secrets to hide and reputations to protect. Robert takes refuge by falling in love for the first time. But, as Robert will discover, the beauty of Castaway House is harbouring resentments that will ruin more than just the summer.
In 1965, Rosie Churchill is renting a mouldering, cold room in the once grand Castaway House, which has now been divided into flats. Drawn to live at Castaway for reasons she can’t identify, Rosie is fleeing her own guilty secret after running away from her family home. So when the dishevelled, confused Dockie, arrives, with no memory of whom he is, but with pockets full of cash, Rosie’s interest is immediately piqued. The house reluctantly starts to give up its secret, and it takes a confession from Star, fellow resident of Castaway, for Rosie to fully glean what happened all those years ago – and to understand who she really is.
Capturing both the 1960s and 1920s well, two eras renowned for their hedonism, this novel takes two very different protagonists, Rosie and Robert, and sets them on the path to peeling back the secrets behind the façade of Castaway House. While Clara is absolutely central to the story, we only have the prologue in her own words, leaving the rest of the narrative to Robert and Rosie – presenting us with the opportunity to interpret her actions and the aftereffects across the years and on all the other characters.
Nicely produced, with a cover that firmly fixes the book in the 1920s, this is a gentle and an easy read, perfect for taking away on holiday.
Many thanks to Jane for the review, and Penguin for the review copy.