A brief young love and its impact nearly 60 years later are at the core of Örnbratt's debut.
Gillian Pugsley (nee McAllister) is a free-spirited and adventurous young woman in the early 1930s. From her childhood home in Longford, Ireland, she is sent to London by her father to live with her sister and later find employment. From there, she becomes nanny for Shashi and Samir, the children of Indian royalty, but when they ask her to follow them back to India, her father balks and instead sends her across the Atlantic to live with relatives in Canada. There, she meets the handsome and charming Christian Hunter and embarks on a love story that will consume her for the rest of her life. The narrative hinges on secrets that Gillian keeps from her family and the reader while dangling hints of their magnitude throughout the novel. The main question at the onset circles around her abrupt departure from Canada after spending a blissful, romantic summer with Christian. The story jumps through time, showing the perspectives of Gillian, her granddaughter, Gilly, and Christian. Gillian asks Gilly to piece together her life story in the form of a novel, giving her a trove of notes, letters and original poetry, but when Gilly comes back to consult the source, Gillian is quiet. While Gillian’s character is memorable—feisty, unexpected and a lover of language—those around her are bland in comparison, absorbing Gillian's characteristics rather than standing firm in their own rights. It's the secondary love stories that mark Gillian's life—her relationship with her granddaughter, her long-distance friendship with Shashi—that make the novel fresh.
The obsession with, and constant reminder of, all that Gillian is withholding muddies what might otherwise be a charming and evocative love story.