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Saturday 12 May 2018

‘The Cliff House’ by Amanda Jennings

Published by HQ,
17 May 2018.
ISBN: 978-0-00-825036-2(HB)

What are the ingredients of a good psychological thriller?

Atmosphere. A sense that there's a lot going on under a surface that appears calm. Characters damaged by life, and growing tensions between them.

All these and more are present in abundance in Amanda Jennings's new addition to the sub-genre. The Cliff House itself is at the centre of the narrative: almost another character in it. To some the house is an architectural monstrosity which mars a timelessly beautiful landscape; to others it's a luxurious art deco gem which offers a haven of comfort and tranquillity.

Tamsyn, the naïve sixteen-year-old main narrator, has always regarded the house as a place and way of life to aspire to. Her adored father died tragically some years before the story begins, and her family struggles to get by in a pretty Cornish village with no work out of the tourist season. So when Edie, the rebellious daughter of the Cliff House's owners, befriends her one glorious summer, it's as if her dreams have come true. But the way of life Tamsyn imagines for the house is far from the truth, and she learns the hard way that not only does money not buy happiness, it can militate against it.

The two girls are not the only eyes through which the story unfolds. Angie, Tamsyn's widowed mother, and Jago, her unemployed brother also contribute their viewpoints of the slow disintegration of family life at the Cliff House, and emerge as rounded characters in their own right and inhabiting their own very different background. That background, and the way it contrasts with Edie's family's over-privileged sense of entitlement, all set against that majestic Cornish landscape, is one of the novel's great strengths. Another is the sense of simmering tension which permeates the story from the outset; somehow you just know something is going to explode, though when it does it's still a shock.

Amanda Jennings is rapidly emerging as a skilled producer of this kind of novel: taut, well-written, peopled by characters who seem to have lives off the page and live in places it's easy to visualize. The Cliff House is her best yet.
Reviewer: Lynne Patrick

Amanda Jennings was born in London in 1973, and her family moved to a village in rural Berkshire when she was young. Unsure what career she wanted to pursue, she decided to follow in her architect mother’s footsteps and accepted a place to read architecture at Cambridge University, but it soon became clear it wasn’t for her and she changed course to History of Art – more writing, less physics! After university, she and a friend set up a company writing copy for small businesses, which paid just enough for rent and wine, but not quite enough for food. As fun as it was, a rethink was required when she fell pregnant. A few years later Amanda went to work at the BBC, but she missed looking after her daughter, and could no longer ignore her yearning to write. When she became pregnant with her second child, and encouraged by the success of a shortlisted sitcom script in a BBC writing competition, she took the opportunity to be at home with the children, grabbing every spare moment she could find to write. Sworn Secret, her first novel was published in the UK in August 2012 and in the US in February 2014. Her latest book is The Cliff House published May 2018. Amanda lives just outside Henley-on-Thames with her husband, three daughters

Lynne Patrick has been a writer ever since she could pick up a pen, and has enjoyed success with short stories, reviews and feature journalism, but never, alas, with a novel. She crossed to the dark side to become a publisher for a few years, and is proud to have launched several careers which are now burgeoning. She lives on the edge of rural Derbyshire in a house groaning with books, about half of them crime fiction.

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