The Memory of Lost Senses begins in 1911 in the peaceful country village of Bramley when the Countess Cora de Chevalier de Saint Leger moves into the big house on the hill known as Temple Hill. The countess is a mysterious and secretive person; she’s an elderly woman now but there are hints that she has led an exciting and eventful life.
Two other people have come to spend the summer with Cora at Temple Hill – one is her grandson, Jack, and the other is Sylvia, a novelist who is planning to write Cora’s biography. But despite having been Cora’s friend for many years, Sylvia finds it harder than she expected to get the countess to confide in her. Instead it’s their young neighbour, Cecily Chadwick, who comes closest to discovering the truth about Cora’s past – and in the process she is able to help Jack make sense of his own family history.
Having enjoyed The Last Summer, Judith Kinghorn’s first novel, I was really looking forward to reading this one. When it arrived with its beautiful cover image and promise of a story involving “a house on a hill, a woman with a past, and a lifetime of secrets waiting to be told” I was even more excited.
I was pleased to find that this second book was as beautifully written as her first. Kinghorn is so good at writing about this era and bringing a bygone age back to life. I loved her descriptions of long, hot summer days in the Hampshire village of Bramley and the glimpses we get of the expatriate communities of Paris and Rome where Cora spent much of her life are vividly described too.
And yet I didn’t love this book the way I loved The Last Summer. I think the problem I had was that I found the first half of the book difficult to follow; there was so much moving back and forth in time and I struggled to keep track of the names of Cora’s various husbands and children. I appreciate that the nature of the novel meant that the details of Cora’s past could only be revealed very gradually, but I felt that too much was being kept hidden from the reader for too long and unfortunately this made the story too slow for me.
Although I found The Memory of Lost Senses a bit disappointing in comparison to The Last Summer I still think Judith Kinghorn is a great writer and I’ll be looking out for more books from her in the future.