Everything about The Memory of Lost Senses says ‘read me’. The cover art is beautiful, evoking days past, with lush colour tinged with melancholy. The sundial in the centre of the fountain tells of time passing; rippling water disturbs the tranquility. Normally I might not dwell on a cover so long, but this one speaks of the story inside so much. Most of the narrative is told from 1911, as two old friends meet up to reminisce about their younger selves. But there is also a story happening at that very moment too, one that takes us forward. At the heart of all these stories is Cora, an ex-pat happier in Rome or Paris but now returned finally to England. To Temple Hill in the heart of the English countryside. Cora is an enigma to the villagers, a stranger with an air of the exotic and mysterious. She certainly harbours a great many secrets about her life.
It is those secrets that Sylvia has come to mine. An author, she has been piecing together Cora’s life story for decades from the fragments Cora has divulged. Now, at last, Cora has sent for her, and their work together can begin in earnest. Sylvia adores Cora, a little too much perhaps, and her constant questioning makes Cora retreat into her memories rather than share them. The theme of memory is vital. Sylvia wants Cora’s true memories, to record for posterity, but also because she wants to be the recipient of them. It will confirm her importance as Cora’s one true and enduring friend. But Cora has lived many versions of her life and now finds it hard to be certain of the right sequence and of the real from the invented. Some memories act as a place of refuge for her, those perfect moments she relives again and again. Others, more painful, more difficult, older memories try to make themselves known. She sometimes inhabits a chaotic muddle of dreams, day-dreams, and memories.
Sylvia accepts the evasions and snubs, but Cora’s relationship with local girl Cecily is too much to bear. She resents the immediate closeness between Cora and Cecily, and the budding romance between Cecily and Jack, Cora’s grandson. Just like before, Cora has someone more important in her life than Sylvia. Then it was George, rising artist and centre of Cora’s world. There are plenty of secrets to discover about that relationship; some of them Sylvia’s. There is a tantalising menacing edge to Sylvia’s adoration of Cora.
It isn’t the only menace in this story. There is a short pre-prologue, of an event from the long past. A child running from some horror in the dead of night, trying to keep quiet. It’s a powerful opening with a huge amount of suspense and fear. So much is packed into that small piece. We move straight to 1923, where Sylvia is looking at a torn photograph. She’s half-remembering two different events, but having trouble keeping it all straight now. These two openers set me up perfectly for the rest of the book – they introduce the secrets, evasions, and slippery memories that fill this wonderful story.
Judith Kinghorn is a natural storyteller. I was truly captivated from the start, and didn’t want to stop reading until I’d reached the end. I felt in the period, in that long long summer of the early twentieth century before the Great War, and then in its aftermath, still be felt five years later. It is a story to take you away and let you live somewhere else for a while. I just loved it.
My thanks to Headline and to Judith for the review copy, it was a pleasure to read. The Memory of Lost Senses is available now in Hardback and eBook. The paperback edition will be published in May.