In a quiet coastal village, Irina spends her days restoring furniture, passing the time in peace and hiding away from the world. A family secret, long held and never discussed, casts a dark shadow and Irina chooses to withdraw into her work. When an antique bureau is sent to her workshop, the owner anonymous, Irina senses a history to the object that makes her uneasy. As Irina begins to investigate the origins of the piece, she unearths the secrets it holds within.
Decades earlier, another young woman kept secrets. Her name was Abigail. over the course of one summer, she fell in love, and dreamed of the future. But Abigail could not know that a catastrophe loomed, and this event would change the course of many lives for ever..
The Last Night was received from the publisher (Corvus Books) in exchange for a review. I have read this author’s debut novel The Silent Hours and the review can be found here
The Last Night has a dual timeline, and is apparently inspired by real events. In the modern day Irina is a furniture restorer, who keeps her secrets very close, hiding behind layers, even when she strips the varnish off the furniture she looks after to find the secrets hiding within.
Irina’s face carries scars, a daily reminder of an accident that happened years before, damaging her face as well as her relationship with those around her (from her mother to her now-ex-boyfriend Andrew and, for most of the book, us too). An unnamed client sends a bureau to Irina for repair, and during repairs she begins to feel a presence. Strange things begin to happen. She hears and sees things that make her doubt herself and her sanity. She becomes obsessed with discovering more about the history of this piece of furniture. The culmination for her is to confront the past in conjunction with her mother – both of whom have been avoiding the subject for years, carrying their own form of grief with them.
Meanwhile, back in the 1950s, young Abigail’s mother has died and she has to leave her family home, and her friend Mary, to live with her sister Connie and Connie’s husband. As children, Abigail and her sister were close, but have drifted apart over the years (we get an inkling as to how and why) and Abigail is surprised by the luxury they live in. She’s also surprised by the actions of her brother-in-law Larry, and spends as much time away from the house as possible. She meets and falls in love with a local fisherman called Richard and finds comfort with Richard and his father that she is not feeling in her sister’s house. The 1950s story culminates with a tragic series of events that changes Abigail’s and Richard’s lives forever.
The relationship between Abigail and Larry is suitably disturbing (especially bearing in mind Abigail is a naive 1950s girl with a sister who has learnt how to protect herself, even if it means not protecting Abigail).
Whilst Irina has some history of seeing things that aren’t there (she has been known to see her dead brother in a crowd – even though it can’t be really), the images she sees are real to her at the time, and obviously puts her off staying in her flat and driving her car etc.
It’s a slow paced book with a slow build up of the tension and pressures for both women. This is a good use of the two time periods, with both main women confronting issues that are seemingly out of their control and their comfort zones. I have read a debut and second novel from another author and was disappointed when it appeared that the writer had written essentially the same story twice. However, I can categorically say that Major has not done this here, and has successfully pulled off the dangerous “second novel”.