Set in 1918 at the end of the WW1 this is the riveting tale of a young woman fighting for what she believes in with determination and passion. Stella has been brought by up her single mother, a suffragette who has recently died from the ‘flu pandemic raging through the country. Her aunt whom she has never met takes her in and the story opens with Stella’s journey to the boarding house her aunt runs in a coastal town not far from Belfast. Cliffside House is a far cry from central Manchester where Stella grew up and her modern ways and outspoken views are a bit of shock to the few inhabitants of the boarding house. But Stella, keen to help soon proves to be invaluable clearing the garden and helping with the housework and even coaxing the young soldier Sandy who is recovering from his trauma at The Front out of his room.
Stella also tracks down her mother’s best friend Rose who had become estranged from her mother and she finds out a lot more about her mother when she was younger and begins to understand more about the suffrage movement, Irish politics and what her mother stood for. She starts to help Rose and her husband Charlie on the farm and discovers an intriguing secret.
Although she is too young to vote Stella is excited by the prospect that for first time women over 30 who are householders or married to a householder will be able to vote and promises to take Rose and Charlie to the polling booth in her aunt’s car. But her aunt falls ill with ‘flu and at the last minute
Sandy steps in to drive the car braving the town for the first time since he had arrived at Cliffside House.
This is a well-constructed, taut novel and you are drawn in immediately. Stella is an engaging character and despite everything she has gone through eager (some might say over-eager) to organise people and sort out their problems. She is by turns irritating, awkward and headstrong yet has a heart of gold. The tender and burgeoning friendship she has with Sandy is beautifully wrought and although some issues are only glanced over you get a very real sense of not only the political struggles but the horror of the Spanish ‘flu at that time. Although Stella sometimes gets carried away by her idealism the message underpinning the novel that individuals can do something to bring about change is powerful and life-affirming. A heart-warming gem of a book.