“This is one of those books that snakes into your head and won’t go away, a grippingly hot, sultry story that feels almost trance-like. It’s a historical saga flitting between 1959 and the present day, but most of the focus is on the hot stifling summer of 1989. 17-year-old Janey Lestrange has just been orphaned when she’s invited to stay with the Hunter family, old friends of her beloved late father. She barely knows them, but soon falls under their spell at Vanes, their strange but beautiful West Country manor with a dilapidated old chapel in its grounds. Kitty and Joss, twins the same age as Janey, become close to her but she’s aware she’s only wanted there for an ancient family ritual which takes place in the chapel at the end of every summer. The menace which builds up slowly over the hot and heavy summer of 1989 is palpable, and Evans writes beautifully about the sensual days spent by the teenagers around the swimming pool, drinking wine and slowly growing aware of their sexual feelings. Then the day of the ritual arrives – and with it, tragedy. I loved this book. Reading it feels like a secret treat, an indulgence as sweet as the honey that is central to the ritual.
The Beloved Girls is many-layered and a richly rewarding read. It begins in 1983, when 12-year-old Janey Lestrange, whose mother has run away with another man, is taken by her beloved father to visit old friends of his, Sylvia and Charles Hunter, at Vanes, their beautiful but strange country house in the West Country. The atmosphere between the adults is very strained, but Janey becomes friends with their daughter Kitty, also 12. Janey doesn’t go back to Vanes until 1989 after her father dies. There she finds her friend Kitty hostile, and her twin brother Joss disturbingly attractive. It’s soon clear how strange the Hunters are, especially Charles, the father. The summer buildup to an ancient family ritual, for which the Hunters need Janey, is menacing.
After the ritual the focus changes to Catherine Lestrange, a successful barrister, happily married with two teenage children. Her life is silently fraying at the edges and on the eve of her wedding anniversary she suddenly vanishes. Gradually the full frightening story of Catherine, Janey, Kitty and her mother Sylvia is revealed. A gripping sensual and luxurious saga we both loved.