I approached ‘The Cliff House’ with high expectations and some trepidation. I’m a great admirer of Amanda Jennings. Her previous book, ‘In Her Wake’ is one of my favourite psychological thrillers of recent year – a masterful study of grief and the lies people tell in the name of family. Could ‘The Cliff House’ possibly live up to it?
In short, yes. This is the story of Tamsyn, whose obsession with the house on the cliff top and the people who live there leads her into all kinds of trouble. The year is 1986. Tamsyn lives with her mother, her brother Jago and her ailing grandfather. But this isn’t the life she wants for herself. She’s seen a glimpse of that life through her binoculars – high up on the cliff, where Edie Davenport lives with her parents Max and Eleanor. Their life is one of glamour and sophistication, of pool parties and people who trade witty barbs over drinks and cigarettes. To make matters worse, Tamsyn’s mother cleans for the Davenports, and her brother Jago is an embarrassment who hasn’t pulled himself together since their father died. Tamsyn misses her father but isn’t afraid to milk his death if it helps her get closer to Edie. For her part, Edie is intrigued by the impossibly innocent Tamsyn and her strapping brother. What Tamsyn doesn’t know is that Edie’s life is far from perfect.
Jennings takes us inside the minds of the two teenage girls, showing us their strengths and weaknesses as the friendship intensifies and a series of unfortunate events unfold around them. This teen-eye view of the world is instantly recognizable – the insecurities, the bravado, the drama. And then there’s the cliff house itself, a building so invested with hopes and dreams it becomes another character in the story, drawing Tamsyn in and slowly revealing its secrets.
This is a brilliant book – often moving, sometimes chilling and deeply haunting. I read it in two sittings and thought about it for days afterwards. There aren’t many thrillers I can’t wait to read again. This is one.