The Cottingley Secret tells two interconnected stories: that of Francis, the nine year-old girl behind the famous fairy photographs; and that of Olivia Kavanagh, a modern women in Ireland faced with the task of putting her grandparents affairs in order while trying to get her life the way she wants it. The novel alternates between written passages left by Francis and what’s happening with Olivia in real time. It’s a fairly neat trick, as what Olivia reads inspires her to make changes in her own life, but it does get a bit tiring after a while. I found myself willing the author to stay in one time period for more than a handful of sections.
The story of Francis makes for a very good read, although it’s hard at first to realize this was written by an adult Francis looking back, and not by her nine year-old self. Once that was figured out, the word choices made more sense. But even still, the wonder of the child seeing fairies each time was clear and easily felt. It was also a good look into life on the home front during the first World War, exploring new technologies invented as well as the domestic problems that come with half of the population being gone.
I found myself invested in both stories equally, which made it all the worse for being split up so. Olivia’s story ended up feeling very repetitive as she went back and forth over whether she should marry her fiancé or if she shouldn’t, her anguish over not being able to biologically have kids (because, again, adoption is somehow never an option in these stories), and her decisions over the bookshop left to her by her grandfather. There is a romance, for those looking, between Olivia and a writer named Ross, both introduced originally by his daughter Iris. But it ends with a maybe, which, to be honest, was very refreshing to me. Happy endings aren’t finished with weddings and forever decisions, but with maybes and hopes.
One note: the fiancé is shown to be controlling, self-important, egotistical, and not very concerned with her outside of how it affects him, which made me wonder why they were even together in the first place. It’s hand-waved away with about a sentence of explanation, but really, when she realized marrying him would make her “Olivia Oliver”, she should’ve called it off right then.
Overall, I like the book. I read it through Once Upon a Book Club, so I got to open little gifts as I read, which maybe helped get me through it a little more than if I’d just had it on my own, but you never know. It’s a pretty quick read, great for a book club or if you’re just looking for something light and fun.