‘It’s a funny old house. They have this ceremony every summer . . . There’s an old chapel, in the grounds of the house. Half-derelict. The Hunters keep bees in there. Every year, on the same day, the family processes to the chapel. They open the combs, taste the honey. Take it back to the house. Half for them -‘ my father winced, as though he had bitten down on a sore tooth. ‘And half for us.’

#TheBelovedGirls @harrietevansauthor Instagram @annecater @RandomTTours #RandomThingsTours

Catherine, a successful barrister, vanishes from a train station on the eve of her anniversary. Is it because she saw a figure – someone she believed long dead? Or was it a shadow cast by her troubled, fractured mind?

The answer lies buried in the past. It lies in the events of the hot, seismic summer of 1989, at Vanes – a mysterious West Country manor house – where a young girl, Jane Lestrange, arrives to stay with the gilded, grand Hunter family, and where a devastating tragedy will unfold. Over the summer, as an ancient family ritual looms closer, Janey falls for each member of the family in turn. She and Kitty, the eldest daughter of the house, will forge a bond that decades later, is still shaping the present . . .

‘We need the bees to survive, and they need us to survive. Once you understand that, you understand the history of Vanes, you understand our family.’

My Review

Another book that’s gone straight to my top books of the year. This book is so unique, amazing, heartfelt, sad and at times quite creepy. It revolves around the annual bee ceremony where the Hunter family and the whole community must follow the path to the old Chapel at Vanes to open the combs and taste the honey.

‘Half for us and half for them, else the Devil take us all’

It all sounds highly risky and even more so this hot summer of 1989. August 31st is the 18th birthday of Joss and his twin sister Kitty and the bees have had to wait an extra two weeks and this had made them crosser than ever. We discover there have been accidents in the past. But it’s an obsession for Charles Hunter and his sister Ros – why is the ceremony so important to them?

‘We need the bees to survive, and they need us to survive. Once you understand that, you understand the history of Vanes, you understand our family.’

Each year members of the family must play their parts including The Outsider and The Beloved Girls. There is a song that is sung during the procession. It is chanted to the tune of ‘Green grow the rushes O….’

‘Three, three, the rivals,
Two, two, the beloved girls’
Clothed all in green, O…

One is one and all alone, and ever more shall be so.

There are so many elements to this book that it’s hard to give a resume. In 1984, 17-year-old Janey Lestrange goes to stay with the Hunters – Joss, Kitty, little sister Merry, mum Sylvia and dad Charles. She has a great time and bonds with Kitty but does not return until 1989, the year of a devastating tragedy.

Many years later, Cambridge graduate and successful barrister Catherine, married to Davide, and with two children Carys and Tom, vanishes from the train station on the eve of her anniversary. A number of things have happened in her life and these are revealed at stages throughout the book. To tie them all together and discover the truth, we must examine the lives of young Janey, her father Simon, Sylvia Hunter and Kitty.

I can’t praise this book highly enough. This is a story to be savoured, not rushed and then read again. I am certain it will become a classic – it’s so sad and beautiful and full of emotion.

Many thanks to @annecater for inviting me to be part of #RandomThingsTours and to NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

About the Author

Harriet Evans is the author of several top ten bestsellers including the Sunday Times bestselling The Garden of Lost and Found and Richard and Judy bookclub selection The Wildflowers. She used to work in publishing and now writes full time, when she is not being distracted by her children, other books, sewing projects, puzzles, gardening, and her much-loved collection of jumpsuits. Last
year, she and her family moved from London to Bath.

5 Comments on “The Beloved Girls by Harriet Evans

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