The Beloved Girls
May 10, 2022
Grand Central Publishing
Blurb: “It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. It’s 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.’
As Harriet Evans’ The Beloved Girls begins, Catherine seems to be slowly unraveling. The verdict in the last case she participated in ruled against her defendant; she believes she sees a woman she has presumed was dead; and she thinks her only recourse is to flee her happy marriage. The Beloved Girls takes the reader through several timelines and POVs to tell the story of the Hunters, an extremely eccentric family whose history seems to take on ancient mythological proportion and Simon Lestrange and his daughter Janey.
Prior to reading The Beloved Girls, I had read five other Harriet Evans novels and have to admit that I came to this one thinking entirely of those other novels, which I loved, without really reading the synopsis, not that that would have given me much pause, but perhaps I would have been more prepared for the subsequent read.
Unfortunately, I don’t know how it happened but I’ve been reading three different books written by UK authors and the one resounding similarity between all three is that they just dragged on. Perhaps it was a function of the pandemic but these books seemed to want to belabor points or cover unnecessary territory.
The Beloved Girls moved between interesting character studies and history to melodrama, from a gothic nature to an uglier bullying element. While I found the history of how the bees came to be kept by the Hunters to be interesting as well as the story of the meeting between Simon and Sylvia, I wished that the plot hadn’t meandered quite so much.
If I had written this review immediately after finishing the novel, I might have given it a better rating because the last third made up for so very much. When the ending is good, you can forgive so much and I think that’s quite possible with The Beloved Girls. But time made me recall how frustrated I felt for a good bit of the novel. I am willing to concede that perhaps I missed something that would account for what I considered to be disjointed plotting and why I would have thought some additional editing might have been necessary because despite flaws this is one novel that sticks with you even past “The End.”
This one may be in the vein of, despite some flaws, it’s still a good read.
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.