After reading history at Bristol University, Cesca Major went on to work in television before becoming a history teacher. She is now lucky enough to be a ‘writer in residence’ at a boarding school in Berkshire after working there as housemistress.
I was so excited to receive a copy of The Last Night by Cesca Major after adoring The Silent Hours that I literally read it in a single sitting…
Ever since finding out that Cesca had been a housemistress in a boarding school – which I’ve done for the last 19 years – I felt a connection with her and as soon as I knew The Last Night was going to be available, I begged Corvus to let me read and review it
The fact that The Last Night takes real events and weaves a narrative around them is something which I especially loved about this book. I read it straight after Emma Flint’s Little Deaths and I really enjoyed the post-reading research that I did to find out the ‘story behind the story’ in both cases.
All of you who’ve had Poldark fever for the last year or so have been #TeamCornwall – Cesca’s book transports us to the small village of Lynmouth, in coastal Devon on a fateful night in 1952. Let me tell you, readers – #TeamDevon was just as gripping, dramatic and unputdownable as anything you’ve seen in Poldark. And then some.
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 in the 1950s, 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 is the kind of novel that I absolutely love. Two women connected across time with lives and experiences that you are equally drawn to and whose stories you can move between effortlessly. Cesca writes Irina and Abigail so convincingly that you really feel that you’ve spent time in their worlds, making it very hard to pull yourself away. It’s a novel made for long autumn afternoons and I got lost in it in my half-term break in gorgeous Perthshire this year.
Irina – our ‘modern-day’ character – is a woman with lots going on beneath the surface. Her life, in a small shop as an antique furniture restorer, has been created as a hiding place for her to keep her secrets close and escape any unwanted attention that her disfigurement may cause. She has deliberately cut herself off from personal relationships and her isolation draws us into her world whilst holding us at arms length too, which Irina does to everyone – even her own mother. The secrecy is such a fantastic technique to draw us closer to Irina; I found myself watching her every movement to see if I could catch a glimpse of whatever she was hiding. Her physical scars hint at the emotional damage that metaphorically scars her and Cesca skilfully leaves us to guess about the accident and speculate about the roots of her emotional withdrawal without alienating us from Irina herself – a very clever method of keeping us connected to her.
Irina’s obsessive self-control over her world is up-ended by the arrival of an antique bureau which spells the beginning of some very mysterious goings-on. This part too, is convincingly conveyed – without being over the top or stretching our belief in Irina’s story. Irina’s journey to unravel the secret that’s been locked away for 60 years is a fascinating and unputdownable one which really brings the setting to life and allowed me to lose myself in its twists and turns whilst remaining wholly connected to Irina and her secrets.
Abigail’s story – set in 1952 – is a successful counterpoint that didn’t jar with or distract from Irina’s tale. I often find that dual narratives can result in you flicking forward to the one that you found more engaging. Not so here. There was a pleasing balance of the past and present and both characters were so well-drawn that I felt like I knew them both and wanted to dedicate my attention to the way their stories interconnected, rather than feeling that one overwhelmed the other. The post-war setting is an interesting juxtaposition to Irina’s world, and I soon lost myself reading about Abigail’s life with her sister Connie after her mother’s death.
Abigail is at first seduced by the glamorous life that Connie seems to lead with her husband – the wonderfully vile Larry:
‘The four-poster bed with a canopy stood imposingly in the centre of the room…it took Abigail’s breath from her.’
Although this is a total contrast with the penury that Abigail is used to, she soon senses that all that glisters is not gold and her sister’s marriage is not as enviable as it first appeared. When things begin to unravel, Abigail’s own pursuit of happiness could be the one thing to destroy everything that she’s dreamt of: tragedy looms after she falls in love with a handsome local fisherman and I was swept up in the shocking and evocative consequences
The atmosphere of secrecy and drama is perfectly maintained throughout this wonderful novel; the setting of Lynmouth and its real-life flood in 1952 was something that I wanted to read more about as soon as I’d finished reading The Last Night. Cesca manages, just as she did in The Silent Hours, to make the setting as compelling and ‘present’ as her two main characters. Even though I was reading it in Scotland in November, I felt Devon come to life as I walked in the footsteps of these characters and experienced their poignant stories
Cesca Major is such a talented voice. She draws the reader into her characters’ worlds and makes them live for us as we read. Irina and Abigail’s tales are all the more powerful due to their connections with real-life events. I was happily engrossed in my Devon research – and looking through North Devon Air BandB rentals in a post-reading haze – for a whole afternoon after reading it.
This gorgeous book took pride of place in my very own ‘TBR Bookshelf’ and looked so tempting in my #OnTheShelfie that I devoured it in a single day.
Now I’m just waiting on her next one…
Author On The Shelf:
Cesca’s first real writing success came when she was Runner Up in the 2005 annual Daily Mail Writing Competition. She has won, or been placed, in some prestigious short story competitions since then including the annual competitions for: Women and Home, Wells Festival of Literature, Grace Dieu and has also had short stories published in the Sentinel Champion and Sunday People Magazine.
She has written two novels based on real events.
Her debut THE SILENT HOURS was published by Atlantic Books in 2015 and THE LAST NIGHT is out this month.
Thank you to the lovely people at Corvus for allowing me to read and review this book.
It’s definitely going in a few stockings this year; I couldn’t recommend it highly enough.
Purchase Link : The Last Night
Website : Cesca Major
Twitter : @CescaWrites