Debut novelist Scaife tells the story of a woman who returns to the home of her dead lover in the hope of finding closure.
One night on a Cyprus beach beneath Aphrodite’s Rock, local Theo Laskaris proposes to British-born Petra Milligan after the two make love. It should be the most romantic evening of Petra’s life, but only minutes later, during a celebratory swim, Theo drowns: “The water had robbed him of his breath, and Petra of his love, while she sat watching and waiting, doing nothing remotely helpful until it was too late.” Stricken with grief, Petra returns to England, where, nine months later, she gives birth to Cali, Theo’s daughter. It’s only when Cali turns 5 and asks questions about her grandparents that Petra writes to Theo’s family and reveals the existence of their granddaughter. Rather than expressing anger at her abrupt departure, Theo’s parents, Ari and Eirene Laskaris, beg her to return to Cyprus and help them run their failing restaurant. Upon their arrival, the Laskarises make Petra and Cali feel at home, but Petra is still haunted by her memories of Theo. She’s also uneasy around Theo’s sullen brother, Angelos, who’s permanently confined to a wheelchair following a motorcycle accident and unwilling to leave his room. Petra sets her mind to turning around the restaurant, although she doesn’t know what to make of little Cali’s claims that her dead father visits her in visions, or of Angelos’ claims that he’s long harbored romantic feelings for her. Caught between her painful past and her possible futures, Petra attempts to repair her notions of love and family while also honoring her ghosts.
Scaife writes in a simple yet elegant prose that adeptly controls the mood of the novel: “The lively music flew through the warm night air as Nikias spun Petra around and around until it suddenly stopped….Yannis, with the grace of a master, immediately began to play his mandolin solo, a slow, almost mournful tune full of heartfelt emotion.” The first half of the novel, which focuses on Petra’s blossoming relationship with Angelos, is well-paced and suitably compelling, even if there is a general overreliance on visions to propel the plot and provide character motivations. The premise is inherently engaging, overall, with Petra, Angelos, and Cali each portrayed as endearingly damaged yet inherently likable. A significant jump ahead in time sends the story in a less interesting direction, however, making Petra’s continuing infatuation with Theo seem less comfortable and less relevant to the narrative. Although one could imagine Petra’s lingering obsession leading to interesting places, Scaife doesn’t take advantage of its potential. At more than 500 pages, the novel feels long, with each additional character making less and less of an impression. The Cyprus setting provides a welcome sense of escapism, and the story leaves readers with a warm feeling at the end. However, those looking for something more complex may come away disappointed.
An uneven generational saga following an Englishwoman’s experiences with a Cypriot family.