My Review of Stolen Summers : A heartbreaking tale of betrayal, confinement and dreams of escape (Matilda Windsor) by Anne Goodwin

Book Description:

All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?

In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.

Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?

The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.

My Review:

My only regret about reading Stolen Summers is that I didn’t read it before Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home reading. Anne Goodwin portrays Matilda so well in each book that when I closed the pages at the end of that first book, I felt heartbroken and angry, Sad because of the life the protagonist endured in her later years, and angry at the archaic system that society had placed her, where she was ending her days. My review for that brilliant story here.

So, not to give any more of the story of Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home, on to Stolen Summers…

 As well written as the first book, and brought out as the prequel, I can only say how much I admire this author’s writing style and her ability to draw the reader into the world of the characters. A great talent in the skill for maintaining a suspension of disbelief.

So I read Stolen Summers as a stand alone book, pretending to myself that I don’t actually know what happens to Matilda in the long run; indeed thinking that there might even be a twist in the tail that I hadn’t foreseen. And for those readers stiil to read Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home,  this could be a plausible assumption.

There’s a double time line in Stolen Summers, a year during the late nineteen thirties, and the eras between the nineteen sixties and nineteen eighties. Each has its own ambience – an overriding atmosphere, so skilfully portrayed that it’s impossible not to feel the emotions of the protagonist and a sense of the place she inhabits. And to empathise with her. And I think this is down to the fact that the author has both carried out extensive research, and also used her professional knowledge of the history of the British system of mental institutions.

All the characters are well rounded, even the minor ones in the fleeting scenes that they occupy the story, are brought to life. But, for me, it is, of course, Matilda whose inner strength and instinctive ability to assess a situation, and act upon her belief, despite the obvious consequences, who won my heart. Her unwavering belief that she would, one day, be reunited with her brother, together with her friendship with Doris, and underlined by the wonderful descriptions of her emotions when dancing, bring an optimism to the story, despite the setting.

Which bring me on to the descriptions within Anne Goodwin’s writing. The claustrophobic, controlled, and confining environment of Ghyllside is completely believable. As is the portrayal of ambience of society in the sixties and onwards. Although these are seen through Matilda’s eyes, and therefore almost a second hand version of those times. Nevertheless these give a brilliant sense of place.

The world is shown through both the narrative, and the inner dialogue of Matilda; even the dialogue of the other characters becomes tinged with her assessment of them. It’s a world that I’m equally glad to be only an onlooker, and yet uncomfortably aware that, not too long ago, it was only too real.

 Before I end this review, I need to say that, despite the circumstances of Matilda’s life there are humorous moments and uplifting passages – her optimism carries the reader through the more difficult scenes. And this is only because of Anne Goodwin’s ability to show all aspects of human characteristics whilst, at the same time writing an excellent story. I can recommend  Stolen Summers with no hesitation.

About Anne Goodwin

Anne Goodwin’s drive to understand what makes people tick led to a career in clinical psychology. That same curiosity now powers her fiction.

Anne writes about the darkness that haunts her and is wary of artificial light. She makes stuff up to tell the truth about adversity, creating characters to care about and stories to make you think. She explores identity, mental health and social justice with compassion, humour and hope.

A prize-winning short-story writer, she has published three novels and a short story collection with small independent press, Inspired Quill. Her debut novel, Sugar and Snails, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize.

Away from her desk, Anne guides book-loving walkers through the Derbyshire landscape that inspired Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre.

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