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by Judith Kinghorn

4 stars

The Memory of Lost Senses is a very inviting book, with its beautiful emerald cover and intriguing blurb. It’s rather slow in the beginning, the early chapters leap jarringly through time and space and point of view, but eventually the style settles down and a captivating story emerges – Cora’s story: an elderly countess, English by birth, she has spent most of her life in Paris and Rome. Cora swore she would never return to England, yet here she is, living in the quiet Hampshire village of Bramley, in a beautiful house, built for her by one of her many husbands – or so the gossip goes in the village, which has never seen anyone quite so exotic or mysterious, as Cora, the Countess de Chevalier de Saint Leger.

The Memory of Lost Senses is a novel all about memory, how memory informs us, how we are our memories: change the memory and you change the life, especially when there is no one left alive who knows the real truth, not even yourself.

Cora’s memories are as fluid as the life she’s led. Her life is a self-penned myth, one she wrote as she fled from her past to a new life in Italy, then France, then Italy again. Always on the move and constantly reinventing herself, hiding from a past that she has buried under layers of lies. The only person whose knowledge comes close to the truth is Cora’s friend Sylvia, and even she doesn’t know it all. Charged with writing Cora’s memoirs, Sylvia finds herself waging a constant battle with her friend’s refusal to be interviewed or even speak about the past except through well-worn stories of questionable veracity. Does Sylvia need to ask so many questions? She’s spent her life writing about Cora, she already knows everything Cora is willing to give up – and more. An elderly virgin authoress, in love with her subject, the writer of dozens of imaginary romances, all, without exception, based on her friend’s life… Or is that the wrong way round? So much of Cora’s life is an invention, so much of it informs the lives of Sylvia’s characters, is the Cora the world knows already little more than Sylvia’s invention?

It’s a question this novel repeatedly asks: who is the author, who is the subject? Ghosts real and imaginary haunt the living and history seems destined to continually repeat itself through the generations as stories twist back on themselves as we journey through time and memory – through the long, hot days of the scorching summer of 1911.Back then, through seventy years of Cora’s life. Finally forward to 1923, to an England slowly recovering from the horrors of The Great War.

The Memory of Lost Senses is a complex tale, attractively detailed and beautifully woven; a perfect summer read for warm days in the garden with a tall glass of Pimms.

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