“The Cottingley Secret” by Hazel Gaynor

cottingley

asteriaiconI had received this book in the Novel Editions subscription book box I received in December. I am very thankful for that, as this is something that would not have crossed my path otherwise, and I would have missed out on a great story!

Olivia Kavanagh traveled from London to Ireland to attend her grandfather’s funeral, and learns that he has left her his book shop and an old manuscript. The manuscript belonged to Frances Griffiths, and is her account regarding the Cottingley Fairies. In 1917, Frances moved to Cottingley, England with her mother, while her father has gone to war. She moves in with her aunt and uncle, and her cousin Elsie Wright. Frances and Elsie become the closest of friends, and frequently play along the beck at the end of the garden. While they have been frequently told to avoid the area, something continuously draws Frances there, and eventually in an argument with her mother she blurts out that she goes there to see the fairies. Her family does not believe they exist, so Elsie and Frances take photographs of themselves with the fairies. Word gradually spreads throughout the town of the fairy photos, and eventually even captures the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and becomes national news. Olivia, in the present, is fascinated with the story of the fairies, and immerses herself in the manuscript. She has a number of personal issues in her life, as well as dealing with her grandfather’s book store and home, and as she reads the manuscript, she starts to understand her life a little more, makes some large decisions for herself, and gradually comes to learn how the Cottingley girl’s lives tie in to her own family’s history.

Fairies generally are not my thing. To me they are more of a fantasy story, and I leave those books to Artemis. But I was really excited to give this book a try. Maybe it was the lovely cover, maybe it was the fact it came in a box at Christmas time with a card showing the theme of “Magic”. Either way, I am glad I read it. I was not aware that the Cottingley girls were real. They really did exist in 1917, and they really did take 5 photos of the fairies, though the fairies themselves were actually a hoax. However, they always swore that the 5th photo in the series was, in fact, real.

As part of the subscription box, you are able to sign up for a private Novel Editions Facebook page for a book club that pertains to each month’s book.  At the start of January, I was able to log on and actually talk with the author, Hazel Gaynor, which was an amazing experience. Hazel was very friendly, and very attentive, making every effort to write back to every question or comment that was made. It was a pleasure to discuss her book with her, to understand a little more how and why she decided to write this novel, her favorite character to write, even her favorite books.  Hazel was lovely, and the whole experience of the discussion with her made me appreciate the story just a little bit more.

I was so impressed with the writing of the story, how everything all unfolded for Olivia, and how Gaynor built a fiction story around true events. The writing flowed nicely, and I loved how it just took me along on the adventure. I loved how she balanced telling Frances and Olivia’s stories, each getting equal attention and careful thought. Gaynor did a lot of research for this book, even meeting Frances Griffiths’ daughter, and reading a book written by Frances of her side of the story, and the amount of research really showed in the story in all the little details provided. My favourite part was a little window in the old bookshop that mysteriously grew daily, and flourished when Olivia was doing well, and seemed to dwindle when Olivia was struggling. Oh, and Olivia kept finding little flowers (of which pertained to the Cottingley story) around the book store and her bed. It all just added a nice touch of magic to the story. Gaynor has written a few other books, where she has done something similar in taking a true event and writing a story around it. One is pertaining to the Titanic, and one is set during WWII. I will definitely be picking up these books in the future to read!

Even if you are not really a fairy fan, give this book a try. Try to understand the draw of such a tale at a time when everyone grasped to a chance to see their loved ones again, and the world was gripped by war. Try to believe in the possibility of magic. Let the fable of the fairies sweep you away.

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