Corvus | 2016 (3 November) | 358p | Review copy | Buy the book
Irina lives a peaceful life, quietly restoring furniture, living in the flat above her workshop, keeping the world at bay. A terrible event has marred her life, scarring her face, meaning that Irina can never escape the past, nor prying, questioning strangers’ eyes. And so she keeps herself busy, hidden away. But one day an anonymous owner sends Irina an antique bureau to restore and this old piece of furniture almost immediately exerts an influence on Irina that is both frightening and curious. She can sense its history and the restoration reveals further secrets. Irina is impelled to discover its past.
It is 1952 and a personal tragedy has driven Abigail from Bristol to live with her elder sister and her husband on the coast, in Lynton in Devon. Abigail hadn’t seen her sister for a decade and, as she had feared, it is difficult to bridge the years. And then she discovers she is falling in love. Perhaps, everything will be all right after all. But catastrophe looms.
The Last Night is such an atmospheric, evocative tale and this is partly thanks to the novel’s enticing structure which moves between characters, alternating between 1952 and Abigail and the present day and Irina. This means that we are never detached far from either storyline and the reminders of the links between the two periods are constant. Each influences the other in such a powerful way.
This is a melancholic novel. There’s barely a character in it who hasn’t experienced tragedy in some form or other and this feeling is strengthened in the 1952 storyline by the closeness of the Second World War. It’s left its mark in such terrible, lasting ways. Abigail and Irina both try to deal inwardly with their suffering and this is potentially disastrous for their relationships. There are love stories here – this is perhaps more romance than it is historical fiction – and neither runs smoothly.
I loved Cesca Major’s previous novel, The Silent Hours, and the author’s beautiful writing is just as evident in this new novel. While there is a little too much emphasis on romance for me in The Last Night (and I did find both heroines rather frustrating in these parts of the novel), The Last Night is an elegant, haunting novel, almost frightening in places and harrowing in others. Cesca Major is undoubtedly a very fine writer indeed.
The Silent Hours