Memory, Memories, & Truth

Memory. What is it? How much can we depend on it for truth? Who dictates what it's made of, and how can the deception of a moment forever influence the perception of a lifetime? What are you left with when you build a life of lies, inventing days, events, entire decades? And who has the right to it's secrets?

Judith Kinghorn proved her writing prowess in The Last Summer, and she returns to the emotion-heavy transitional period before World War I. While there is a poignant romance that plays a strong role in the plot, the focus falls on the unreliable history of an elderly lady of the old order. Cora de Chevalier de St. Leger lived a life filled with more sparkle and glamor than a fairy princess. She was the toast of the Continent and maintained her dominance within the high society of Paris and Rome right through her later years. And when she returns to England for the last time the village people are enamored of her charm and the air of a glorious history draped about her like a heady perfume. But there are a few who notice the wrinkles in her stories, and one reaches out to find the truth.

Cecily Chadwick wants so much more than the staid, passionless life of the quiet English countryside. When the handsome Jack Staunton draws her into his orbit she senses a chance to grasp not only love, but the excitement she craves. When he introduces her to his grandmother, though, Cecily discovers the mystery which will become the axis upon which all of their worlds will circle upon: who is this lady and what is the truth beneath the stories of bright ballrooms, French castles, and balmy summers spent in palatial villas. What is the key to unlocking the puzzle of Cora's memories, a series of seeming-fantasies?

Wedged in the very heart of the contention between honesty and fairytale is Cora's long-time friend, Sylvia. She was there almost from the first. She knows much of the story first-hand ... but not all. Obsessed with learning the reality of her friend's life, Sylvia refuses to allow anything to stand in her way. She doesn't hesitate to lock horns with Cecily, whom she views as a rival for Cora's affection and confidence, and even her relationship with the elderly countess comes up short when weighed against unearthing what she seeks. She proves to have been the author of one of the greatest lies which dictated Cora's chances of happiness in the end.

Nearly epic in scope and fearlessly plunging the depths of human consciousness, Kinghorn has crafted a nuanced tale of love. Not just romantic love, but the devotion between friends -- a tie which can be as destructive as it is strong. The love of individual history, a past immaculate in its cherished creativity. A love for truth, even if it is not yours to discover. She demands us to consider just what the nature of that which is called "history," and our own role in crafting it.

Where Kinghorn fell short was the way in which she transitioned from past to present within a scene. It is very dramatic to have that dynamic to the story, but it was executed poorly. The story's strengths far out-distance its failing, however, and the characters we spend such a brief time with shine as a memory as rich and delightful as any Cora invented. I can't help but wonder what Kinghorn will treat us to next. She is quickly establishing a reign of glory over the portion of historical fiction dealing with the English during The Great War. Bravo!