Reviewed by Harriet
Best known for her books for children and young adults (ninety-five of them to date), Adèle Geras has also written a handful of novels for adults, of which this is the fifth. I’ve read all five, with great enjoyment, and thought Cover Your Eyes to be one of the best.
Adèle excels at stories which span generations, and this novel is no exception. Often it is different generations of the same family, but here, though that also figures, the two main characters are not related to each other. Megan Pritchard, a young journalist, is sent to interview Eve Conway, an eighty-year-old woman who was a celebrated fashion designer until her sudden and mysterious retirement many years ago. The interview goes well, but soon afterwards Megan is devastated by the break-up with her married lover, who also happens to be her boss, and decides to leave her job. Emotionally devastated and unable to know what to do with herself, she decides to drive down to Eve’s country home, Salix House, and show her the just-published interview. Finding herself warmly welcomed by Eve and immediately loved by her two grandchildren, she decides to accept the surprising suggestion that she become the children’s temporary nanny. The two women become instantly close, but both of them have secrets which they are unable to fully confront.
Cover Your Eyes is told in alternate chapters, so that we get Megan’s story as a first-person narrative and Eve’s history in the third person with many flashbacks. It’s clear from the start that Eve is subject to terrible fear and guilt. As a child, she came from Germany on a kindertransport train, and was parted on the way from her sister Angelika, who she has never seen or heard of since. Or rather, she has not seen her in the flesh – but the house seems to be haunted by her spirit. Eve is so afraid of her sudden appearances that she keeps every mirror in the house covered with scarves and shawls for fear of seeing her. If that were not enough, she is under terrible stress at the moment, as her daughter Rowena is insisting on selling Salix House and pushing Eve to agree to move into one of a series of unattractive flats in London. Megan, meanwhile, has got herself involved with a nice young man who happens to be a teacher at the children’s school, but though she likes him a lot, she is aware that she has fallen into the relationship on the rebound and that he’s not really right for her.
The novel is a really interesting blend of past history, present day troubles, psychological analysis and a touch of the supernatural (or is it?). There are several mysteries at the heart of it, something which always endears a book to me, but it also raises issues that will be recognisable to many readers. Eve has gifted Salix House to her daughter – something many people do these days to avoid death duties – but this means that Rowena is able to sell the house even though her mother does not want to leave it. (Alert to aging parents: this is not a road to go down if you already have a troubled relationship with your children).
Happily, all these problems do resolve themselves by the end. Megan confronts her past and sorts out her present, Eve and Rowena come to a better understanding, and most important of all, Eve finally understands the truth of what happened with Angelika all those years ago.
Adèle Geras is a writer of great compassion, and this novel is touching, perceptive, and ultimately uplifting.
Victoria interviews Adèle too here.
Adèle Geras, Cover Your Eyes (Quercus, London: 2014). 9781782066071, paperback, 400 pp.
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