#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · Britain · contemporary fiction · Throwback Thursday

Throwback Thursday Book Review: Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell


Welcome to a weekly post, Throwback Thursday. This weekly book review post is a way to share some old favourites, books that were published over a year ago and most importantly those books that have been languishing on the to be read pile for far too long!

Synopsis:secrets of the tides small

Every family has its secrets. Some are small, like telling a white lie or snooping through a private drawer. Others are more serious, like infidelity and betrayal. And some secrets are so terrible they must be hidden away in a deep, dark place, for if they ever came to light, they would surely tear a family apart …

The Tides are a family full of secrets. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house perched high on the Dorset coastline, youngest daughter Dora hopes for a fresh start, for herself and the new life she carries. But can long-held secrets ever really be forgiven? And even if you can forgive, can you ever really learn to love again?

My review:

The recent release of Hannah Richell’s much anticipated third novel, The Peacock Summer compelled me to dust off a long term resident from my TBR shelf. Secrets of the Tides, Hannah Richell’s debut novel published in 2012, the same year I purchased the book, is a heavy but satisfying family drama.  Secrets of the Tides zones in on themes of guilt, sorrow, redemption and forgiveness, as the reader closely follows the fate of the Tide family.

We all know that behind every family unit there are secrets. The Tide family have a big secret. Years ago, a tragic event came out of the blue and ripped their once happy family apart. The effects of this tragedy literally wrenched this close knit family to pieces and fractured each member in different ways. Now, some years later, Dora returns to the scene of this life changing event, to her old family home in Dorset, named Clifftops. Dora is hoping to reconcile the past with present, as she holds a new life and a new generation of the Tide family. But, the question is, will the sad past that has haunted the whole Tide family finally be laid to rest? Can each family member find it in their heart to forgive one another and the ill fated individual decisions that were made that day? Secrets of the Tides, considers whether it is possible to let love and family connections back in to your life after so many years of emotional pain, with surprising results.

Gosh, I really didn’t expect to respond to this book in the way I did. From the soft cover and title, I thought I was in for a gentle women’s fiction based family drama. What I got instead was something completely different, but in a good way. The prologue reads like mystery/ thriller, it is unexpected, shocking and immediately works to draw into the pages of the novel. It also sets the tone for the rest of the book. Secrets of the Tides is a powerful, emotionally charged and intriguing. I took my time with this novel, but I was glued to the pages of the book from the opening, right through to the close.

Secrets of the Tides is one of those books that it is hard to discuss too much of the mechanics of the novel without venturing into spoiler territory. There is a big family tragedy which forms the basis of this book and where it takes its characters. There are secrets aplenty and the final reveal, forming the last piece in this complex family puzzle, is saved until the final chapters of this book. For a debut, this is an impressive release. Richell does not mess around with her approach and structure to her first novel. I found it a little slow, but perfectly composed and carefully ordered. I also liked Richell’s approach of using a past to present swap over in timelines to draw out the narrative.

Another strong element in this debut novel is the focus on characters. As this is a rich family drama, Richell balances her perspectives of the three Tide women all affected by the same tragedy. Through the shifting style of narration, we are privy to the inner thoughts, feelings as well as emotional pain of each of these different family members. Richell also ensures the patriarch of this family, Richard is not forgotten and we receive an in-depth insight into how Richard’s mind and welfare was affected by the tragedy. What became clear to me as I reflected on the characterisation of this text is that Richell has a firm understanding of the human psychology of how an unexpected family tragedy can impact a seemingly normal family unit. She explores all facets of the impact of such an event and how grief can incite such a personal response. And while I sympathised greatly for the younger daughter figure in the book Dora, I was less enamoured by the decisions made by both mother Helen and older sister Cassie. When characters get under your skin in the way the Tide family did for me, you know a book is of a high calibre.

Richell’s sense of place is overwhelmingly evocative and it was my favourite aspect of this novel. The setting which takes places in the quiet coastal area of Dorset in the south of England, an area I am personally familiar with, drew me in further to this novel. Richell also juxtaposes this coastal setting to the bustling city locale of London, where the characters find themselves in the present day storyline. It was a fine point of comparison, contrasting these two different locales. What resounded significantly in Secrets of the Tides was the presence of Clifftops, the scene of the pivotal family tragedy, which comes across as a character in its own right. I found Clifftops to be brooding, menacing and slightly gothic. Richell certainly has done herself proud in this section of her first novel.

I was able to draw a number of themes from my reading of Secrets of the Tides. Obviously it is a family drama and it offers up an excellent sketch of a family under the immense pressure cooker of grief. It is also about the act of forgiveness, making peace with decisions made in the past, reconciling the past with the present and moving on with your life after a significant tragedy. The mystery of what happened that fateful day on the beach defines the direction of this novel and will be the reason why many readers will be drawn into this book.  Ultimately, the presentation of this normal family unit and the way in which it is written easily enables you to put yourself in the uncomfortable shoes of Tide family. I would best describe Secrets of the Tides as a connective read.

While my time with the tragic Tide family, affected so deeply by a life changing tragedy, has come to a close, I have a sneaky suspicion that this one will weigh heavily on my mind for some time. Although Secrets of the Tides is a sad tale, it offers an introspective study into the mindset of a seemingly ordinary family moved for years to come by an unforseen tragedy. Secrets of the Tides is an impeccable debut, that I highly recommend.

Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell was published on 27th November 2012 by Hachette Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of Secrets of the Tides, Hannah Richell, visit here.

Secrets of the Tides, is book #74 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge




6 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday Book Review: Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell

  1. Yes, looking at the cover one can think it would be a happy family story set on the beach but as we all know covers can be deceiving. Another awesome book to add to my runaway TBR pile, soon I’ll be chasing it if it gets any longer. Lol.


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