On the eve of World War II, a small village on the Dorset coast is about to change forever.  Artist Charles Aubrey brings his family — Celeste, Delphine & Elodie — to the seaside for the summer.  Dimity “Mitzy” Hatcher, just 14 herself, a local, becomes fast friends with young girls.  The long days are filled with frolicking at the rocky beach, tea with the Aubrey family and, most importantly, escape from her own unhappy home.  Mitzy’s mother Valentina is a cruel, harsh woman who keeps food on the table by working as a woman of ill-repute.  Boozy men arrive on the doorstep of The Watch and Mitzy knows it is time for her to take off and explore the wild, cliff-worn coast.

Man O' War Cove, Dorset
Man O’ War Cove, Dorset

When the summer ends, and the Aubreys leave, Mitzy’s life once again becomes grey and dismal.  She lives in her own mind, remembering the calm times when she felt she belonged in a family.  Her memories became an obsession and she lived for the day when the Aubreys would return and summer would bring high skies again.

In present day Bath, Zach is an art gallery owner with too few customers. His ex-wife has just lef the country with his young daughter.  He is feeling at a loss, especially regarding his life choices.  A lifelong fan and scholar of Charles Aubrey, the only thing he has going for him is his book deal.  It’s supposed to be an in depth biography on the artist, but he has yet to find the right angle to present the information.  Zach decides to take a trip to the town of Blacknowle, where Aubrey spent three summers.  He discovers an elderly Mitzy still living at The Watch.  He begins to uncover what happened nearly 75 years later.


Though Blacknowle is itself fictional, it is based on the area of the the Dorset coast.

The village of Blacknowle lay in a fold of the rolling Dorset coastline to the east of the villages of Kimmeridge and Tyneham — that strange ghost village appropriated by the War Office in 1943 as a training ground for troops and then never returned to its residents.  Zach’s parents had taken him to the village when he was a child, as part of an August bank holiday break in the area.  Zach most clearly remembered Lulworth Cove, because there’d been an ice cream — much hankered after but rarely had — and the beach’s perfect, round crescent had seemed so unreal, almost like something from another country. He’d filled his pockets with the smooth white pebbles until the lining split, and cried when his mother made him empty them out before getting back into the car.   ~Pg. 27

Webb does a fantastic job with the numerous various points-of-view.  While each has serious flaws, they are incredibly sympathetic.  Each has a weakness for ignoring aspects of their own reality in favor of what they wish life would be.  And by spanning 75 years, Webb highlights that human nature never changes.  In the midst of all of her commentary on our fallibility, Webb still weaves a compelling story.  This tale of identity, memory and personal truth is a fabulous read.

Many thanks to William Morrow for the review copy.

ISBN: 9780062234469
ISBN10: 0062234463
Imprint: William Morrow Paperbacks
On Sale: 5/28/2013
Format: Trade PB
Trimsize: 5 5/16 x 8
Pages: 496; $14.99
Ages: 18 and Up

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