THE GUEST HOUSE BY THE SEA
People come to the guest house for fresh air and views across the Atlantic. But if they’re lucky, they might just leave with the second chance they didn’t know they needed…
Esme has run the guest house for as long as anyone in Ballycove can remember. But in her declining years, her sight is failing, and when she has a fall on the eve of the summer season, she is forced to take a back seat for the first time in her life.
From her chair in the entry hall, not much passes Esme by. There’s Cora, the wife visiting indefinitely… without her husband; Niamh, the city professional with a life-changing decision to make; and Phyllis, the grandmother whose family is slipping away from her.
Esme’s guests provide the colour that helps her keep her grip on the world. All of them have something they want to escape – or to hold on to.
But can Esme can help them find their way before the summer is over?
Like most writers, Faith didn’t take the direct route into publishing. She gained an Honours Degree in English Literature and Psychology from Dublin City University and a Postgraduate Degree from University College, Galway, then worked a variety of jobs, including as a fashion model, an event’s organizer and in the intellectual disability and mental health sector. The constant throughout has been a love of books! she has read and written all of her life.
She was a winner in the 2014 Irish Writers Centre Novel Fair – an international competition for emerging writers. In 2018 she was selected as a Words Ireland winner in the DWAD afternoon – this opened up opportunities among writers and film directors. In 2019 she won Mayo Business Woman of the Year (Arts) in the Network Ireland Business Woman of the Year Awards.
Faith’s contemporary fiction novels have achieved top ten best seller status across the US, UK, Australia and Canada. She writes crime fiction novels under the name Geraldine Hogan. She is also a regular contributor to newspapers and magazines, and writes short story compilations.
Faith currently lives in the west of Ireland.
JUNE, MONDAY: THE FIRST DAY OF THE SEASON
“It was nonsense, complete and utter nonsense. It would take more than some fancy doctor telling Esme Goldthorpe she was going blind to stop her running the Willows. It had been in her family for almost two hundred years, run by the women of generations before her. Strong women, just like her own mother, who had died right here, just as she had been about to book in a party of five. And Esme had long since decided she would be no different; she would keep this place open, right up to the end”
“He shuddered with what she supposed was anguish or, worse, maybe fear. He was losing himself and she had to constantly remind herself that it was probably a lot worse than losing your husband”
“There had been many times over the years when she’d felt angry and jealous of Jeremy’s wife and family; today, strangely, she just felt lonely. She could plead with him to come with her. Although, the sensible part of her knew, if he’d wanted to come, he’d have offered. And so, she couldn’t ask, because that was the first rule of being a mistress – make no demands”
“So why did she feel this heavy weight of emptiness instead, as if her marriage was some black hole and she was in danger of falling in and suffocating while life went on without her?”
“Death, or unexpected death, was cruel like that, yanking away the person you loved so brutally that it seemed as if they were forever stranded between two worlds. She could never quite let him go and yet, she knew he wasn’t really here any more”
“Time and uncomplicated circumstances wait for no woman. Life is for grabbing it as it comes long, believe me, I know that much for sure”
“It was after five by the time Cora arrived back in Ballycove. She’d spent a bomb and it hadn’t made her one bit happier. Who on earth said retail therapy actually cured anything? She was just wrecked tired with a lot less cash in her bank account”
“Marriages, like dreams, didn’t just happen; you had to do some work to get there”
‘The house of second chances’
Everyone needs a dose of feelgood, hug-in-a-book reading, every once in a while. Yes! there are inevitably a few tears shed along the way and not every ending has roses around the door, but if you are feeling the need of a comforting shoulder to lean on, and a wise word whispered in your ear, then Esme is just the confidante you need, and this is definitely the story for you…
Be aware however, that there are trigger points for any particularly emotionally vulnerable readers, although personally I didn’t find them too troubling, as they are all part of the rich tapestry of life as we know it today.
The Willows Guest House has been run by Esme Goldthorpe for more decades than she cares to remember, although the place is more than just a business to her, it is also her home and her very lifeblood, having been in her family for almost two hundred years and been run by the women of generations before her. Esme knows that the place isn’t perfect – far from it – as its age is beginning to give it away and a gentle dilapidation is gathering pace with the passing seasons. However, its location right on the western coast of Ireland, with the stunning views of the ocean it commands, more than makes up for any cracks which might be showing. Esme is determinedly holding out against the local Fenlon family, who are buying up all such similar properties with a view to building a large luxury hotel complex and are becoming increasingly ruthless in their methods to try and get Esme to sign on the dotted line. With the amount of money the Willows needs spending on it and faced with Esme’s advancing years and failing health, the outcome might seem inevitable, especially as this promises to be one of the most challenging seasons ever. However, Esme has underestimated the esteem she is held in, both by her guests and the redoubtable and fiercely loyal Marta, who has been with her for so many years now, that the two are more like mother and daughter.
This year, so many of her guests are amongst her most long-standing patrons, making the trip this time for a whole raft of different reasons and when they have collectively and individually met and been reunited with Esme, they decide that she should on no account be bullied into taking any action about the future of the Willows, which she doesn’t want to happen. As the storyline unfolds we learn of the many reasons which have brought them together, as if by fate, at this place, at this time, and their shared experiences are the bedrock of this wonderful book. Esme herself, despite her own physical and emotional limitations, through her wisdom and ability to listen intently to each person, hearing what is left unsaid as much as the words which are spoken, holds the key to many of the answers they seek, although they must work things out for themselves from Esme’s guarded observations, as the way forward must be the choices and decisions of their own making.
As a mark of their individual and collective respect for their wonderful hostess, her guests pool their many talents, in their determination to make The Willows a place which will be there for many years to come and a haven where they know they will always be welcome.
This richly crafted, multi-layered, cross generational story, transcends the elucidation of everyday domestic intrigue and interest, which it might at first appear to be. There is so much more depth, heart and even moments of unashamed humour, to be garnered from author Faith Hogan’s wonderfully textured, evocative, poignant and emotional narrative and dialogue, which wrapped itself around me like a comfort blanket.
Esme, whilst coming to terms with her own frailty of age and health, and no longer with her beloved Colm by her side, still holds deeply locked within her heart the long held secrets which saw her return to her roots all those years ago, never to leave again, a trauma which she has hitherto only shared with one other special person in her life. This makes her even more determined that her home should continue to be a safe place of sanctuary, comfort and healing for those who cross its threshold, whatever their reason for visiting.
Faith unashamedly, yet sympathetically, raises for discussion some of those often complex and difficult to deal with issues, which surround us in our daily lives and can result in such traumatising long-term outcomes for both the sufferers and their loved ones. Dementia, rape, abortion, miscarriage, physical and mental abuse, lone parenting and the fading blooms of a lacklustre marriage. You may think that this list is sad and depressing enough to make you not want to even open that first page; but believe me, Faith made it so easy to step into Esme’s world, seeing things through her eyes, as she attempts to help her guests maybe think about things which they consider to be insurmountable problems, from an altogether different perspective, which may help them unravel their often confused thought patterns. At the same time, her guests, in some cases almost against their will, are beguiled by their unassuming hostess, her homely and understated guest house and the calming forces of the ambient coastal surroundings.
Whilst the wider location and the way in which it helps Esme’s guests connect with their innermost thoughts, adds texture and depth to the storyline, this is definitely all about the house itself and the wonderfully well drawn and developed, authentic characters who pass through its doors each and every season. Their hopes, dreams, pain, moments of happiness and joy, are all emotions which surround them like a cloak when they are free to be themselves and don’t have to put on a brave face to cope with the added pressures of everyday life. Maybe, not having walked in all of their shoes, I couldn’t connect with everyone and their unique problems equally. However, their individual vulnerability and that feeling that they were searching for a sense of belonging, was so definitely prevalent when they first arrived at the Willows, but after Esme had worked her magic and they had begun to open up and connect with one another, they seemed to grow in stature, more able to make decisions about their futures and with the confidence to follow through with actions.
Ballycove is a fictional location which has been melded with some real locations, although with the aid of my trusty Google maps, it was quite easy to pinpoint where this small town might be situated. However, this book was never about the places themselves, which are background window dressing for the immediate area around the Willows, the house itself and, more importantly, the people within its four walls. Faith has made full use of of the palette available to her, to paint a picture full of vibrancy and colour, which offered a real sense of time and place that I could almost step into. Taking in the sights, sounds and smells which lift this small coastal corner of the west of Ireland off the pages, for a truly transportive and immersive experience.
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by some amazing authors who fire my imagination, stimulate my senses and stir my emotions, and this storyline over delivered on just about every front, so thanks for some lovely moments and images to treasure, Faith.
A complimentary kindle download of this book for review, was made available by publisher Aria Fiction and supplied by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion, and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However, some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well-deserved 5 out of 5 stars!
Thank you for taking the time to read my review, I appreciate your support.
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