On the eve of a world war, a forbidden love will blossom in the garden of a stately home, where one young woman will make a choice that will change her life forever…
As the storm clouds of war gather, Cordelia seeks refuge in the grounds of her family estate.
Handsome landscaper Isaac has recently arrived to tend to the gardens, and the connection between him and Cordelia is as immediate as it is forbidden.
Isaac begins to secretly teach her how to cultivate the gardens, so when he and all the young men are called away to war, Cordelia takes over.
From the battlefields of Europe, Isaac sends her letters, that give her hope for their future in peacetime.
But when these messages abruptly cease, Cordelia must face up to the worst and take her future – and the fate of the garden they both loved – into her own hands…
I bought The Hidden Letters by Lorna Cook from Amazon to read on my Kindle. I've enjoyed reading other books by Lorna including The Forgotten Village, The Girl from the Island, The Forbidden Promise, and The Dressmaker's Secret. I've been eagerly awaiting this new book and it did not disappoint!
The overall structure of The Hidden Letters is an intriguing step-change from Lorna's other Second World War, dual-timeline books. It is set during the First World War and, rather than having a present-day strand, the story stays in the past.
I thought these changes worked brilliantly for this story. It was interesting to read about a different context - before, during, and after the First World War - and I enjoyed the way there was more time to linger in this era. The tension arose from the love story and the separation between the two main characters, Cordelia and Isaac.
The romance between Cordelia and Isaac was brilliantly captured - from their first meeting in the grounds of Pencallick House by the lake (a scene that has poignant echoes later on in the novel), through to their developing relationship as she learns how to garden and their heart-breaking farewell when the war starts.
Although they are from different sides of the social divide, Cordelia's determination and curiosity, and Isaac's quiet confidence and steadfastness, enables them to see they have more in common than they realised. By the middle of the book, I was turning the pages anxiously to discover how it would all turn out.
The setting of a country house in Cornwall was gorgeously depicted. I felt like I was walking with Cordelia in the gardens - the sounds, smells and sights were brought to life so well. There was an end-of-an-era feel to everything that was very moving: the fountain project that wouldn't be completed because the workers had left to fight in France and the flowers that only Cordelia would see bloom.
Lorna's writing captured the uncertainty in the build-up to war through snippets of conversation over the breakfast table, newspaper articles, and the old gardener, Gilbert's speculations about what will happen to the garden.
Just when everything is about to blossom - for Isaac and Cordelia, Edwin (her older brother), and the garden itself - war cuts in with devastating consequences. I liked the way Lorna used the muddy, incomplete, dug-out fountain as a way for Cordelia to try and imagine what it must be like for Isaac in the trenches.
The letters of the title were woven into the story beautifully. I liked how the epistles were not just between Cordelia and Isaac but also between her and her family and friends. Reading them was an interesting way find out the viewpoints and experiences of other characters. The letters also offered surprising twists, especially one heart-stopping reveal that I did not see coming!
In summary, the story and characters of The Hidden Letters stayed with me long after I'd finished reading the book. I won't spoil the ending, but it was very emotional and kept me on the edge of my seat until it was over. The Hidden Letters is a sumptuous and atmospheric novel that I would thoroughly recommend.
Also posted as an Amazon Review.