This novel is surprisingly well-written, blending past with present in two believable characters, one named Claira (1886) and the other Claire (1986). Combining the rich history of Cornwall, England, with the artistic world of the Newlyn School of Painting, the author ties together two women through a painting of one of them.
Claira is married on the day her father dies in 1886 and carries the burden of her grief into the union with the older Munroe, a strict Methodist. Given the climate of the times and the congregation's vigilance over unmarried men and women, Munroe understandably has little knowledge of his bride but brings her into a household that is luxurious compared to the poverty of her youth. Their personal struggles as a married couple are set against an extravagant background of the Cornwall countryside, a perfect setting for their stormy beginning. Both are brought closer by the attention of a famous local woman artist, who asks Claira to pose for a painting.
A century later, Claire and Howard purchase Trethenna, the same farmhouse once occupied by Claira and Munroe. Enchanted by the house and wooded surroundings, Claire is delighted to live there. So far removed from London, Howard will have to commute to see the family on weekends, but their two young sons flourish in the new country home, and Claire renews her own interest in painting, stealing quiet hours to work on her craft.
But there is more in store for Claire and Howard than a geographical change. Claire finds herself challenged in unexpected ways, confronted with difficult decisions and the need for serious self-assessment. She has found something in Cornwall, an interior life that has long been ignored. Ultimately, Claire must determine what is best for herself and her family.
This novel is beautifully structured, paralleling the lives of the two women living a century apart. The subtle threads of both personalities are carefully woven together against the changing times. A love of art, a lush landscape and the uncertain territory of marriage define their commonality, yet each woman shines with her own particular gifts and strengths. The past reaches into the present, leaving fingerprints that endure in a turbulent and intense setting.