Historical fiction in a vivid setting: ‘The Sea Gate’ by Jane Johnson
August 19, 2020
The Sea Gate is a dual-timeline story: the historic storyline is about wartime Cornwall and 16 year old Olivia, and the modern day one involves Rebecca, the adult daughter of Olivia’s cousin. I enjoy novels that bring together past and present in this way and this one is no exception.
I especially loved the setting of this book, having travelled to Cornwall and been enchanted by its dramatic rock-strewn coastlines, picturesque fishing villages and brooding moors. They provide a wonderful backdrop for a tale with plenty of family secrets; an old rambling house full of mysteries; intrigue and danger; past wrongs and a dash of romance.
Becky sets herself the task of restoring Olivia’s neglected family home to some semblance of habitability, so that her elderly cousin can come home from hospital. In the process she finds herself piecing together the secrets of Olivia’s past, especially events that took place during the war.
She also re-examines her own life and makes some surprising decisions about her future; she is a cancer survivor, still recovering from surgery and treatment and the shock of her illness:
Fear has trapped me, rendered me immobile and powerless: fear of losing Eddie, fear of the cancer, fear of everything, really. I’d forgotten I ever had wings, let alone how to use them.
The Sea Gate p304
This was for me the most satisfying part of the novel: the emotional development of Rebecca’s character and her trajectory of self-discovery and change.
The one part that didn’t work so well for me was the chapter in which Hamid tells his story. An important secondary character, his story is a good one, so it is perhaps simply personal taste that meant I didn’t enjoy his first-person narrative inserted into the the story in this way. It did not, however, detract from my overall enthusiasm for The Sea Gate.
It’s an engrossing read, recommended for anyone who enjoys historical fiction, dual timeline stories and an evocative, dramatic setting.
The Sea Gate was published by Head of Zeus Publishing in June 2020.