In 1913, a young girl is abandoned in London on a ship headed to Australia. She was brought there by a woman she knows only as the Authoress, who never comes back, despite having told the little girl to wait for her. Eventually, the little girl makes it to Australia, where the harbormaster of the town where she lands adopts her and raises her as his own.
This book is the story of three women, Nell – the little girl, Eliza – the Authoress, and Cassandra – Nell’s granddaughter. In parallel stories, set in the 1910s, 1970s and 2000s, we learn the results of both Nell’s, and Cassandra’s (after Nell has passed away) efforts to learn where Nell comes from.
When Nell is left on the ship, she’s given a small suitcase whose contents include a gorgeously illustrated book of fairy tales by Eliza, illustrated by a famous painter named Nathaniel Walker, who’s know more for his portraiture. The book and his drawings are unique, and draw Nell, and later Cassandra, to a little cottage in Cornwall connected to an old estate. It’s a bewitching place that Nell is able to buy in the 70s, though she never tells a soul why, and Cassandra must unravel the final pieces to Nell’s past, which is most certainly connected to this cottage.
I loved this book. The stories of the three women are both heartbreaking and fascinating. The lives of all three are so wonderfully drawn, it’s impossible for me to pick a favorite character.
I very much enjoyed the inclusion of some of Eliza’s fairy tales, which set such a perfect mood for the book. The cottage in the book sits at the end of a maze, and the book itself is a maze that’s well worth winding through.