In Gillen’s debut novel, an art restorer travels to an English country manor and discovers a mural’s secret.
After her breakup with her philandering fiance, Londoner Ellen Quinlan takes a job in a country house near Sheffield restoring a mural of the night sky. Her client, Henry Eldon, believes the mural contains a message that has been painted over. As Ellen proceeds with her assignment, she learns about Henry’s experiences as a soldier and prisoner of war in Poland and about the tragic death of his bride, Rose, when she was killed by a stray bomb. Ellen also finds out that Henry was once an accomplished jazz pianist but has been unable to play since Rose’s death. Henry’s friends welcome Ellen into their midst, especially aspiring jazz musician Dave, who runs the local pub. Romantic sparks fly between Ellen and Dave until she learns that he has a young son and an on-again, off-again relationship with the boy’s mother. Meanwhile, Ellen gains the confidence to pursue her true passion as an artist. Author Gillen conjures a rich atmosphere, and her debut proceeds at a subdued, contemplative pace. However, her characters, while carefully developed, have a tendency to indulge in brooding, philosophical introspection. Gillen’s prose can also be dramatically ornate, as when Ellen describes a song: “Each sound seemed to be both a request to enter and an expression of the beauty of each sound and each moment.” Later she tells Dave, “When we are rejected, we are just one step closer to finding out our true destiny.” Overall, however, many readers will warm to the novel’s sympathetic characters and thoughtful ruminations.
A charming, quiet novel with occasional flashes of melodrama.