Much like her previous novel, The Beach Hut is set in the past and the present, in almost alternating chapters. In the present, in a Cornish seaside town, siblings Finn and Ava have built an illegal beach hut to live in temporarily, angering local publican Donald. Donald is mourning the death of his wife, and struggling with his teenage daughter Alicia. Every character has secrets, some darker than others, which are all slowly revealed in the present and the past.
This is a book about the different kinds of relationships between family members, and the stories we tell, or don’t tell. Fairy tales, the dark kind, play a huge part of this. Finn is writing a book of fairy tales and some of his stories appear at the end of some chapters. Fairy tales are used as an indirect way of telling difficult stories or explaining difficult things, just as they always have, and I really enjoyed their inclusion. I also really liked the way the relationship between Ava and Finn was written; you could feel the easy closeness, as well as the parent-child dynamic, between them.
Just as in her first novel, Parkin is really good at creating a sense of place, and using that place to reflect the characters. In this book, the sea is really important, with its hidden dangerous undercurrents while on the surface the tide behaves in predictable ways, just as the main characters hide dark secrets. Interestingly, both Ava and Alicia feel a strong affinity with the sea, and find comfort in it much more so than others. Combined with the fairy tale theme, they feel like mermaids, marooned on land where they don’t belong, and both of them have lost a parent and ended up being taken to live elsewhere when young.
It did bother me that the only black characters in the book (who are only in it fleetingly, the south-west is a very white place), are criminals. They are not the only, or worst, criminals in the story, but I think Parkin was aware of this as she wrote, “They weren’t the only black men on the street, but they were the only ones of whom you’d say, a gang of black youths,” suggesting she was trying to point to other, non-criminal, black characters. But I don’t think it’s enough. I guess I’m tired of seeing black characters in books only as criminals, sidekicks, or bystanders while white characters get a full range.
It’s a very readable book about relationships, secrets, and stories, with an undercurrent of darkness and a few twists and turns. A good one for the beach, as long as you keep an eye on the tide coming in…
I received a free copy from Legend Press in exchange for an honest review.