Book review: The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

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Two women – a generation and sixty years apart – are both drawn to the golden, sweeping sands of Tenby in Wales, little knowing that the pretty seaside town will mark out their destinies.

Welsh author Tracy Rees, whose debut novel Amy Snow won the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller Competition in 2015, draws on her Celtic roots for her third emotionally powerful outing, a moving and bittersweet story of family, friends, reconciliation and second chances.

Weaving between a teenage girl growing up amidst the rapidly changing social and cultural landscape of the 1950s, and a 40-year-old woman trying desperately to cope as her life falls apart in 21st century London, The Hourglass is a beautifully observed and compelling blend of mystery and romance.

Practical, clever, efficient and the consummate professional, university administrator Nora has always taken the success of her busy London life for granted. But now things are falling apart. Her formerly close relationship with her mother Jasmine has rapidly deteriorated, she has split up with her partner Simon on the eve of her 40th birthday and she is plagued by anxiety and nightmares.

Inexplicably, she finds herself drawn to the sweeping beaches of Tenby, a place she has only been to once before during a visit to her grandmother. Her mental vision of its ‘diamond-bright’ beaches has made her feel as if it is ‘the key to a great secret.’

Throwing caution to the wind, she packs in her job, moves to Tenby and rents a beautiful townhouse near the harbour with local girl Kaitlin and slowly begins to settle in to her new life. But Tenby hides a secret, and Nora will soon discover that this little town by the sea has the power to heal even the most painful memories.

Wind back to 1953 and we meet 13-year-old Chloe, a vivacious and ambitious teenager from a small Welsh village who visits Tenby every summer to stay with her ‘posh’ aunt and cousins, and spends the long, idyllic days on the beach.

Every year is the same… she meets up with her good friend Llew Jones, a gangly but likeable boy several years younger than herself, and attends the much-anticipated annual Tenby Teen Dance. And it’s there that she meets a glamorous older boy and is instantly smitten. But on the night of their first date, Chloe comes to a devastating realisation, one that could well haunt her forever…

Rees is an elegant and intelligent writer with the gift to imbue her enchanting novels with vivid, well-drawn characters, rich historical detail, emotional wisdom and a wonderfully authentic sense of time and place.

The lyrical and seductive evocation of beautiful Tenby and its people, the intriguing, multi-layered story and the gentle unfolding of the secrets that have bubbled beneath the surface of the two women’s lives for decades make The Hourglass an irresistible story.

(Quercus, paperback, £7.99)