For Mavis Gaunt, life at home was difficult. With her father’s absences and her parents fighting incessantly when they were together, happiness was in short supply. So, when little Mavis was sent to live with her Aunt in Shipleigh, Devon when wartime London was no longer safe, the countryside seemed like heaven. She had freedom, a sense of belonging and a purpose in the daily life of the village. She was especially taken with the Upcott children – older, quiet brother Robert, younger and feistier brother Tom and their aloof sister, Frances – children who seemed to live by their own rules on their secluded farm outside of town.
All too soon Mavis must return to her life in London but she could not forget Shipleigh. The dreams she spun around her time there were such that once she no longer had a reason to stay in London she moved back in search of those feelings of happiness and home that she had only experienced there. Now in her twenties she weaved right back into the fabric of the village, even more so when her Aunt left Mavis her cottage and she resolved never to leave.
When the opportunity to strike up a friendship with Frances Upcott arose Mavis jumped at the chance. The more time she spent at the farm the more she felt like part of a real family, something she wanted so desperately. She began to envision marrying one of the brothers, becoming a true sister to Frances and solidifying a place in what she saw as the perfect life. As the Upcott’s secrets begin to slip, however, Mavis finds that life on the farm isn’t as perfect as she might have thought. And one day when she witnesses a series of tragic events her life is irrevocably changed, laying even more secrets on her lap that she must carry with her alone.
Years later, seventy year old Mavis befriends a young boy and his mother, Eve, when Eve escapes her own difficulties in London for her mother’s childhood home of Shipleigh. Eve is searching for answers to her family’s secrets, ones that tie in with what Mavis has kept hidden. As Mavis’s life becomes more intertwined with Eve’s she learns that it isn’t too late to release her burden and find the peace she has always searched for.
Weaving back and forth between time and place, the bulk of An Inventory of Heaven reads as Mavis’s testament to Eve, something not fully realized until the very last page. So much of Mavis’s life is sad that you cannot help but feel sorry for her when her illusions of paradise here on earth are shattered by the events unfolding around her. The writing is beautiful, allowing the reader to look through Mavis’s rose-colored glasses at the nature and people of Shipleigh and, after the events that change everything, the writing actually makes the world feel darker and dreary. It’s not hard to immerse yourself in Mavis’s life, for good and bad.
Giving a unique view into a country life not often written about, An Inventory of Heaven is about the many secrets we all keep, about trying to find someone to share these burdens with and not always finding that person when and where we want. By no means a happy story, it nonetheless reaffirms one’s belief that it is never too late to find a piece of happiness if we open ourselves up to finding it.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Corsair. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.