The right book can instantly transport you to anywhere — and anytime — in the world. Every Thursday, we recommend one of our favorite books with a strong sense of place so you can see the sights, meet remarkable people, go on exciting adventures, and feel big feelings. Bonus: You don't even have to put on pants.
This post is part of our 'Weekend Getaway' series.
Hey! How about a slightly disquieting but ultimately rewarding trip to a seaside hotel in Cornwall? This novel has hints of Agatha Christie (manor house, a motley crew of characters) and Daphne du Maurier (drenched in atmosphere, dark motives), but it’s less murdery and ghosty — and equally absorbing and unsettling. Prepare for crashing waves and well-deserved comeuppance.
This nearly-forgotten gem of a novel by English author Margaret Kennedy has many of the trappings of a classic golden age crime novel — except there’s no murder and clever literary shenanigans are afoot.
It’s 1947 in Cornwall and the summer holiday is in full swing. A once-elegant private home has, by necessity, been transformed into the Pendizack Manor Hotel. But before we can meet the staff and guests — who mingle begrudgingly, enthusiastically, cautiously in its chintz-decorated rooms — we learn that the hotel has been crushed beneath a landslide. And many of the guests, but not all, will remain forever sleeping beneath the rubble.
The story is set over the seven days leading up to the accident. With each passing day, we get to know the hotel’s inhabitants: a snooping housekeeper, a grief-stricken couple, a charming chauffeur, an eccentric authoress, the lazy hotelier, a self-centered aristocrat, two mothers of dubious affection, and a band of children — both sweet and sour — that romp among them.
From the first, we know that there will be some survivors, but who lives and who dies isn’t revealed until the final chapter.
Along the way to the final revelations, there are life-changing conversations, love affairs, new friendships, perilous situations, and moments of redemption — all set against the backdrop of the changing social mores of a post-WWII world. Rather than a whodunnit, this is an exploration of how these people came to be here and what fate has in store for them.
In 1937, author Margaret Kennedy and her literary friends came up with the idea for a story collection based on the Seven Deadly Sins. That notion stayed with her, and with this 1950 novel, she gathered all of the sins under one roof, letting them do their worst to delightful, unsettling effect. It’s pretty apparent that the inn is run by the unhappy wife of Sloth; it can be a bit of dark fun to try to connect the other characters to pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, and wrath.
But it’s not all bleak damnation. Kennedy has a gift for sharp metaphor, so there’s plenty of wry humor to keep the holiday spirit afloat, and several of the characters do their best for Team Virtue.
Although the story begins at the end, the pages are infused with tension and forward momentum. It can sometimes be an unsettling journey, but if you enjoy watching characters get their just desserts, you’ll be glad to spend a little time at the Pendizack Manor Hotel.
It was a hotel, you know. Used to be a private house, but they’d turned it into a guest house. The cave runs right under the cliff. The blast must have shattered the rocks in there and loosened a great slice of the cliff face. Later on, cracks were found at the top of the cliff, about a hundred yards inland… You should see the place; you wouldn’t know it. The cove is not there anymore. Nobody would think a house and gardens and stables ever stood there… — Margaret Kennedy
This literary mystery (354 pages) was published in June of 2021 by Faber & Faber. The book takes you to a seaside resort in Cornwall. Melissa read The Feast and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
Top image courtesy of Benjamin Elliott/Unsplash.
Want to keep up with our book-related adventures? Sign up for our newsletter!
Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.
Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.
This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.
We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.
This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.
Content on this site is © 2022 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.