Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Memory of Lost Senses - Judith Kinghorn

‘When the journey ended, this was all one was left with, memories.’

I absolutely adored Judith Kinghorn’s debut novel The Last Summer – (read my review here) – it was one of my favourite books of 2012, I felt very emotionally involved in that wonderful story of Clarissa and Tom, and I still clearly remember the weekend I sat reading it, and the bereft feeling on finishing it. I was therefore eagerly anticipating the arrival of this second book, and I was also a little nervous; will I enjoy this one as much, will the story grab hold of me, will the writing be as good? I am pleased to say that the answers were yes, yes and yes.

This is a beautifully written novel that took me back in time again to early in the twentieth century, to places and a period which are vividly evoked and introduced me to fascinating characters whose lives I was enthralled by.

A mysterious elderly lady, a countess in fact, arrives to take up residence in a quiet Hampshire village, and everyone is curious as to her identity and her past. Cecily Chadwick is one such curious neighbour of the countess, eager to find out more about the life of this enigmatic lady who has lived abroad for so many years. Cecily is attracted by this life and keen to hear about Cora’s experiences. However Cora is troubled by threats she has received, and by her memories. Her close and dear friend Sylvia, a novelist, joins her in Hampshire and endeavours to compile a more detailed account of Cora’s past to become her memoirs. The challenge of this process of thinking back over things is acknowledged; 'Sometimes it's not easy to revisit the past. It involves confronting everything we've done and said, all our actions, mistakes, and regrets.'

This is a novel about love, intrigue, memory, mystery and truth. It asks, can we rely on our memories? Place is very important in this story; both Hampshire and also Rome, the expatriate life there, and places within the story are intensely realised, as is the way in which places can offer 'a kind of freedom, and the chance to be whoever one wished to be,' as Cora speaks about Rome. Indeed she entrances Cecily with her strong recollections of her life in Rome: 

'And behind every doorway, no matter how humble, were masterpieces, friezes depicting ancient stories, magnificent frescoes, statues, intricate mosaics and richly marbled floors. Every window and balcony overlooked the antiquities, like one's own museum, one's very own art gallery. It felt to me like the centre of the world. And of course it had been, once. Everywhere one looked were relics, history and art, stupendous art. How could one fail to be inspired in such a place? All of it shaped me, who I am, and like those I have loved, it remains here,' she said, placing her palm flat upon her chest. 'It lives within me...that place.' And how could it not? Cecily thought.'

From the start, the clever structure hints at mysteries. There are secrets hidden in Cora’s past which her grandson Jack, staying with her now, wishes to uncover, to know more about his family’s past. The emotions stirred by the past, and the nature of memories, run throughout the novel. The author illustrates through Cora a keen understanding of the acute pain of joy and sadness deep within our pasts, and how, when we think about the events and feelings in our pasts, it can be overwhelming:

'Numbness had come with old age, but to her bones, not to her heart. And though in public she was careful to keep her emotions in check, to maintain - or try to maintain - a ready smile, a relaxed countenance, in quiet, solitary moments, moments of reflection, and often when least expecting it, she was sometimes plunged under, submerged, left gasping for breath; drowning in a great swell of sorrow and joy and pain and rapture. And it was this, the memory of senses and sensations, that made her weep.'

The quandary with me when reading this book, one that I think other readers will identify with when it comes to a new book by a favourite writer, was that part of me wanted to read it as quickly as I could, to devour it greedily because I couldn’t wait, and part of me wanted to take my time in reading, to savour it; having waited with excitement to read it, I didn’t want to rush it. The prose has a lyrical quality; there were many passages I savoured as I read.

Judith Kinghorn is now very high up on my list of authors that I know I can trust to skillfully create another world on the page for me to venture to and become ensconced in, always with a compelling, beautifully written tale to tell, a gorgeous use of language, with characters I love and relationships that are certain to intrigue me. Definitely recommended; settle yourself in a comfy chair and be captivated by this lovely period story. As with The Last Summer, this is certainly a book that I will keep on my shelves and return to one day.

Published by Headline

Thanks very much to the publisher for kindly sending me a copy of this novel to read and give an honest review.

You can follow the author on twitter @JudithKinghorn and visit her website here.


  1. I loved The Last Summer and all things Italian so this sounds ideal. Thanks for review, Lindsay. Tx

  2. I agree with your observation about reading a book 'greedily' at first, and then savouring the read on subsequent occasions. I am exactly like that with my favourites, Ian Fleming and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock). These days, I like to read their stuff each week, just a little, but enjoying their writing regularly helps me keep my own storytelling on track!
    Best, Chris

  3. Lindsay, this sounds wonderful as does the last summer. I have to read them! Thank you for such wonderful reviews, your love of both stores shines through

  4. Great review, I know just what you mean when you say that part of you wanted to greedily devour the book whilst another part of you wanted to savour it.

  5. Lovely review Lindsay I really want to read this now.

  6. I heartily endorse your review, Lindsay. Both Judith's novels are my Must Reads of the past year, will be kept for another read one day. I have limited bookshelving these days (smaller space living not so good!) but my Kinghorns are here to stay.


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