Skip to main content

The Shadow Year


The Shadow Year

THE SHADOW YEAR, Hannah Richell’s latest novel, starts out slowly, examining the sadness and grief of Lila, a woman who has recently lost a child. The story builds to a dramatic and terrible conclusion with tension rising page by page as the story shifts between Lila's perspective and that of Kat, living in the same house 30 years earlier. The two stories interweave in ways both obvious and surprising, and Richell's highly charged and effortless writing draws readers in from page one.

Soon after losing her daughter, in an accident of which she has little memory and that happened just months after her father died, Lila inherits a house in the farm country north of London. It is really a run-down cottage, inaccessible by road but close to a beautiful and isolated lake. Lila, an interior decorator and renovator by profession, hopes that fixing up the cottage will help heal her heart and give her quiet time to help remember the details of the accident. But leaving London means leaving her husband Tom, also in mourning, behind. As she spends more and more time alone in the cottage, her marriage grows increasingly tense. It is with kind-hearted neighbors named William and Evelyn that Lila finally begins to relax and find a sense of peace. Still, she must face her strained relationship with Tom, her complicated relationship with her mother, and the difficult memories of her father.

"Literary in style, but not stuffy or arrogant, THE SHADOW YEAR is entertaining and sometimes heartwrenching."

The year is 1980, and Kat and her friends are fresh out of college. A trip to an abandoned house on a lake inspires them to cancel their plans for jobs for the next year and stay, the five of them, in the house, living off the land. Kat, raised in her early years by her junkie parents before moving with her little sister Freya into a foster home, is in love with Simon, the charismatic leader of their group. She sets out to make the house more comfortable as Mac takes the lead on hunting food, Ben becomes the house chef, and his girlfriend, Carla, the gardener. The idyllic life they hope to craft for themselves starts to fall apart as winter approaches, supplies run low, and the strain only increases when the beautiful Freya arrives, attracting Simon's attention just when Kat thinks he has finally come to care for her romantically. The delicate balance of feelings and responsibilities fall apart after one night of intoxication and violence, and the consequences are devastating and deadly.

The stories of Lila and Kat are twisted images of each other but also connected in ways that unfold as the novel progresses. The lakeside house is the setting for both, but what happens to Lila and Kat takes them in two very different directions. Some of the connections are quickly apparent to keen readers, but Richell has a few tricks up her writerly sleeve as well. Figuring out some of the elements and conjunctions between the two plots in no way diminishes the impact of the novel.

Literary in style, but not stuffy or arrogant, THE SHADOW YEAR is entertaining and sometimes heartwrenching. It is a smart page-turner, a bit scary and quite atmospheric, exploring the depths of sadness, loneliness, loss and hope, as well as the meaning of family.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on June 13, 2014

The Shadow Year
by Hannah Richell

  • Publication Date: May 6, 2014
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • ISBN-10: 1455554332
  • ISBN-13: 9781455554331