The Cottingley Secret
By Hazel Gaynor
Publisher: William Marrow
Genre: Historical Fiction/Magical Realism
The author of The Girl Who Came Home turns the clock back one hundred years to a time when two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convinced the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies in their garden. Now, in her newest novel, international bestseller Hazel Gaynor reimagines their story.
1917… It was inexplicable, impossible, but it had to be true—didn’t it? When two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright from Cottingley, England, claim to have photographed fairies at the bottom of the garden, their parents are astonished. But when one of the great novelists of the time, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, becomes convinced of the photographs’ authenticity, the girls become a national sensation, their discovery offering hope to those longing for something to believe in amid a world ravaged by war. Frances and Elsie will hide their secret for many decades. But Frances longs for the truth to be told.
One hundred years later… When Olivia Kavanagh finds an old manuscript in her late grandfather’s bookshop she becomes fascinated by the story it tells of two young girls who mystified the world. But it is the discovery of an old photograph that leads her to realize how the fairy girls’ lives intertwine with hers, connecting past to present, and blurring her understanding of what is real and what is imagined. As she begins to understand why a nation once believed in fairies, can Olivia find a way to believe in herself?
The Cottingley Secret is an exceptional sort of story that will easily attract an expansive audience with its lyrical prose and hints of warm and whimsical elements of magic.
Told over the course of two alternating timelines, Hazel Gaynor constructs the story of two young girls (Frances and Elsie) from 1917 Cottingley, England who produce photographs of fairies from a nearby beck hoping to convince their parents. In doing so, they inadvertently capture the attention of the one and only, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and create an unexpected sensation during a time of war and hardship. But Frances is succumbing to the mounting pressures of their new-found attention and longs to free herself with the truth.
100 years later, that truth is delivered to Olivia Kavanagh in the form of a manuscript received upon the passing of her grandfather. She also learns she has inherited his bookstore Something Old. As Olivia works to manage the newly acquired shop and reads through Frances’ story, she uncovers a past that is deeply connected to her own. With a little help from an old manuscript, a few new friends and the bookshop, Olivia just might learn something more about herself and what she truly desires in life.
The Cottingley fairies are a subject that I am familiar with to a small extent. I have always been charmed by the story of two young girls convincing a country at war that there was something magical in existence. I am also aware of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s interest as a spiritualist. It is a story that while in hindsight may not supply the same air of magic, at the time managed to deliver a breath of hope and much-needed promise. In that alone, there is something of beauty, and Hazel Gaynor delivers nothing less in The Cottingley Secret.
“There is more to every photograph than what we see-more to the story than the one the camera captures on the plate. You have to look behind the picture to discover the truth.”
The real splendor that is The Cottingley Secret can be found within Gaynor’s ability to maintain an air of genuine enchantment while examining the truth. She may uncover the reality behind the photographs and how they came into existence, but she utilizes this to explore hope, love, and the promise of something greater. This is where the magic lies.
Character development unfolds slowly through a series of manuscript readings and Olivia’s own personal struggles. This approach feels intimate, encouraging the reader to further explore Olivia and Frances. Gaynor invites the reader into the heart of her characters, immediately establishing a solid bond. Each character is familiar, each encounter emotional.
Seamless transitions in narration and timeline construct a world that is enveloping and engages the senses to the fullest. For a few hours each evening, I was transported to Something Old or the beck in Cottingley. Knowledgable and atmospheric writing carries the reader back in time with incredible ease, allowing a rare glimpse into history that feels almost surreal at moments as we find ourselves wanting to believe. Needing to believe. This is elegantly balanced by the time spent with Olivia as she pieces together the past and finds herself in the process.
“We are the sum of those who have touched our lives in one way or another.”
The Cottingley Secret is a book for those who believe in spite of the odds. For those who are young and the young at heart. It is a tale of a magic we each hold within through our own love and hope. Between the pages lies a journey of imagination and heart that will captivate and linger long after the story ends.
*I would like to thank BookSparks and the publisher for this copy. The above review is my own honest, opinion.
Enjoyed with a nice cup of English Breakfast and a splash of milk.