When eight-year old Aurelia Vennaway runs outside to play in the snow on a January day in 1831, she finds a baby, blue, abandoned and barely alive. She takes the baby home and, despite opposition from her parents, demands they keep the baby. Aurelia really is that precocious. She names the baby Amy. Amy Snow by Tracy Rees is about two lost girls, each lost in different ways who through their friendship find strength to face the lot given to them by life at a time when women had few individual rights.
This is the story of a secret, well-hidden and unveiled by a series of letters. The two girls grow up together. Aurelia lives a privileged life and Amy stays on in the large house, first as a servant and then companion to her friend. She is treated harshly by Aurelia’s parents, but is looked after by Cook and under-gardener Robin. The two girls support each other as they grow up. Amy gains an education and learns how to be a lady, but when Aurelia faints, a weak heart is diagnosed. When Aurelia dies in her early twenties, Amy is thrown out of the house where she was discovered in the snow. ‘Staying here where you were not welcome. Schemer! Vagabond! Baseborn!’ shouts Lord Vennaway.
But Aurelia has not abandoned Amy. In a package entrusted to the keeping of the local schoolteacher and given to her after the funeral, Any finds money, a green silk stole and a letter. It is the first of many. In a recreation of the treasure trails she invented for her young friend when they were children, Amy must now follow Aurelia’s trail of clues. The subterfuge is necessary, Aurelia insists in her first letter, but does not explain why. So Amy travels to London and looks for a mysterious bookshop, trying to second-guess Aurelia’s clues, unsure where the path will lead, knowing only she must find the next letter. What is the secret Aurelia is protecting and why can’t she confide in Amy while she is alive? Each letter apologises for giving no answers. The trail takes Amy from London to Twickenham, Bath and York. The nature of the secret becomes obvious well before Amy realizes it, but this doesn’t stop the urge to read to the end.
There is some lovely description of the houses and the fashions of the time, and I particularly liked Ariadne Riverthorpe who was much more than she seemed. In contrast the family in Twickenham, the Wisters, are idealised. As the story progressed, the letter device came to see rather false. Also, given the title of the book, I expected the main narrative to be about Amy’s origins so when these are briefly explained at the end, it seems like a bit of an afterthought.
If you like this, try:-
‘After Leaving Mr Mackenzie’ by Jean Rhys
‘Angel’ by Elizabeth Taylor
‘The Distant Hours’ by Kate Morton
And if you’d like to tweet a link to THIS post, here’s my suggested tweet:
AMY SNOW by @AuthorTracyRees #bookreview http://wp.me/p5gEM4-2TL via @SandraDanby