There's a patter of small footsteps. A swing of a plait. A flick of yellow ribbon. Something pulls at the edges, a darkness that no one dare name.
In 1959, the four Wilde sisters - beautiful Flora, forthright Pam, Margot (the narrator) and little Dot - have been sent by their flighty but loving mother to spend the summer at Applecote Manor with Aunt Sybil and Uncle Perry while their mother Bunny is, as Perry puts it "hopping around the clubs of Cairo" (actually Marrakech). They used to spend holidays there, but haven't been for five years - not since Cousin Audrey mysteriously disappeared one day, aged twelve. "Simply vanished, the poor darling," as Ma told them, disclosing little further detail, and Margot - not really wanting to believe it to be true - didn't enquire further. But now she is back at Applecote, the matter suddenly seems more pressing, and over a long hot summer, secrets begin to emerge.
In the present day, Jessie has moved to Applecote Manor with newish, frequently absent husband Will, little daughter Romy, and reluctant stepdaughter Bella. She's hoping for a new start - especially for the troubled Bella, grieving for her dead mother and violently rejecting Jessie's right to even exist - but things aren't working out quite as she had hoped. As the past begins to seep into and perhaps even parallel the present, Jessie wonders if she has made a terrible mistake.
This is a wonderful book, beautifully written with a delicate touch. The characters - the four Wilde sisters, tragic Sybil, angry Bella and the rest - are so vividly drawn and there is a compelling sense of place.
I think ultimately this is a story about the bonds between sisters and the complicated grief of a mother for a daughter and a daughter for a mother. An enthralling read with a very satisfying and even uplifting ending. I loved it.