Over the summer, I lost myself in this delightful historical-fiction, The Cottingley Secret by new-to-me author, Hazel Gaynor. In which Gaynor takes us back, to reimagine the real life events that led up to two young girls from Cottingley, Yorkshire, convincing the world that they had done the impossible and photographed fairies! What I didn’t realise when I picked this up was that it is a dual-narrative novel, which was an excellent discovery for me, as this is one of my all-time favourites genres.
Gaynor splits her narrative between the two young cousins, Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright in 1917, and Olivia Kavanagh one hundred years later. Olivia is a book binder from London, who has returned to the small Irish town she grew up in, on the sad passing of her grandfather. Whilst cleaning out her late grandfather’s bookshop, Olivia discovers an old manuscript, that slowly reveals to her (and us) the real tale of Frances and Elsie, and the more that comes to light, the more Olivia realises the fairy girls’ lives are intertwined with hers.
Turns out that the manuscript is the testimony of the elderly Frances Griffiths, who wishes for the truth to finally be told. As a young girl, she moved across the world, from sunny South Africa to the cold Yorkshire dales, to live with her mum’s family while her dad was away fighting. There she becomes fast friends with her cousin Elsie. Having been teased and reprimanded so many times for spending so much time at the local beck, the girls decide to take a photograph to prove the fairies exist that Frances claims to see there.
However the photographs become a national sensation, even garnering interest from the great novelist, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and soon the tale is not something Frances and Elsie have any control over. Their photographs offer hope and bring a little magic into these dark times of war. Not wanting to shatter this, the girls are forced to keep their secret for decades. All of which leads to an interesting reflection on whether it matters if they were fake or not, or if what they stand for is more important.
I think Gaynor has put together a lovely and believable series of events for how and why Frances and Elsie came to take the photographs, but without taking away all the mystery and magic from the tale. That magic also seeps a little into the life of Olivia as she reads Frances account and she starts to question her own life, what she believes in and what she wants for the future. In fact, for once, I was equally taken with both the modern and the past narrative in this novel, which is no small feat from Gaynor.
All in all, I thought The Cottingley Secret was a light, sweet and simple tale, that swept me along with the mystery, romance and magic of it all, which was just what I needed. I would definitely be interested in reading more by Hazel Gaynor. ⭐⭐⭐Great read.
(Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion)
I’d love to hear your thoughts: Have you read this? Have you read other books by Hazel Gaynor or about the ‘Cottingley Fairies’?