I read this book just after Christmas but it’s been one of those reviews that I’ve found difficult to write. Not because I didn’t enjoy the book, but because it was a complex story and hard to summarise or to write about without giving too much away.
The Girl on the Cliff begins in the present day and follows Grania Ryan, who has returned to her parents’ home in Ireland after having problems in her relationship with her boyfriend, Matt, in New York. One day Grania meets an eight-year-old girl, Aurora, standing on the edge of a cliff. As she gets to know the girl and her father better, Grania begins to discover how Aurora’s family, the Lisles, are connected with her own family, the Ryans.
Grania’s mother, Kathleen, is worried when she hears about her daughter’s new friends. Kathleen knows what problems the Lisles have caused for the Ryans in the past and is afraid of history repeating itself. As we go back in time, first to wartime London and then to one summer in 1970, we gradually learn the truth about the two families and why Kathleen has come to see the Lisles as enemies.
As we move through the generations, we meet lots of different characters but the most memorable is Aurora. In many ways Aurora seems much older than eight, though in others she still behaves like the child she is. Some short sections narrated by Aurora herself are interspersed with the main story, which I thought was very effective. There’s something almost otherworldly about her narration and at times I found myself wondering whether she was supposed to be a real child or some kind of ghost or fairy!
This is yet another of those novels with multiple time periods that I’ve been reading so many of recently, but this book is an example of how this structure can work very well – I found all the threads of the story equally interesting and cared about the characters in each one. So many things happen throughout the pages of this novel and I’ve only mentioned a few of them here – each time period contains its own set of surprises and secrets and I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for any future readers! I will say that the 1970s section was particularly moving and took the story in a direction I hadn’t expected at all. But whether I was reading about London in World War I or World War II, a farmhouse in rural Ireland or Grania and Matt’s fashionable loft apartment in New York, every time and location came to life.
The book wasn’t perfect – there were a few plot developments towards the end that I found difficult to believe and some parts of the story were too predictable – but there were plenty of surprising twists that I didn’t see coming and enough suspense to keep me turning the pages to see what would happen next. After enjoying this one so much, I’ll be looking out for Lucinda Riley’s next book and would also like to go back and read her previous one, Hothouse Flower.