“The Sea Gate” by Jane Johnson – Book Review

“The house is full of secrets, and sometimes they come out and whisper together in the night.”

A wonderful story that switches between dual timelines featuring two strong, courageous, and resilient women artists.

1943 – Olivia Kitto is sixteen years old and finds herself maintaining the large cliff house on her own while also caring for a small girl, their housekeeper’s daughter, who was left behind by her mother. Olivia’s parents are both off fighting the war and she feels bereft. Her beloved beach and surrounding farms have been taken over by the war effort.  Living off meager rations, Olivia has only the house and her father’s “Flying Eight” car.

“Flying 8”

Prisoners of War have been housed at a nearby farm. When two of these POWs escape, Olivia’s life is irrevocably changed.

Present day – Olivia Kitto is now 93 years old and in hospital. She will only be released if she has someone to care for her, and if her home is renovated to accommodate her frail state.

“Cousin Olivia is, like Chynalls, stuffed with secrets, and I feel compelled to find out what I can.”

Rebecca, a cancer survivor herself, has just cleared out her mother’s apartment after her recent death. She discovers correspondence from one of her mother’s cousins – Olivia Kitto.  The elderly lady wants Becky’s mother to travel down to Cornwall to save her beloved house.

“There are times when considering the renovation of someone else’s decrepit old house is more attractive than dealing with your own reality.”


Feeling betrayed and unenthusiastic about her current romantic relationship, Becky decides to travel to Cornwall in her mother’s stead. She finds a decrepit old house, with no indoor plumbing, a leaky roof, no cell phone signal, and… something completely unexpected, a foul-mouthed African grey parrot named Gabriel.

Becky visits the old lady in hospital and finds herself quickly feeling affection for the irascible Olivia. She does her utmost to prepare the house for Olivia’s return. She hires two Algerian builders to do the work.

“There’s still so much fire in her, so much character, a sort of fierce, frail heroism. I wish I’d known Olivia when she was younger.”

The two women in this saga were both strong and resilient. They had many things in common despite their sixty+ year age difference.

The house, Chynalls, (Cornish for ‘the house on the cliff’), was almost a character unto itself. Imagine it, on a cliff overlooking a Cornish beach, complete with secret tunnels, and a colorful and precarious history. When reading this book, one can’t help but think of Daphne Du Maurier’s “Rebecca”. The setting coupled with the one of the protagonist’s names – how could you not?

The story set during the war years was vividly rendered and well researched. The present day story was also quite compelling, including themes of family secrets, blackmail, and  elder abuse.

The ending wrapped up the book perfectly. Poignant and hopeful in equal measure.

To be honest, anytime a novel is set in Cornwall it grabs my attention. It seems so idyllic. This time round I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there via the pages of “The Sea Gate” and can highly recommend it to readers who enjoy the work of Rosamund Pilcher, Kate Morton, Harriet Evans, and the like.

Loved it!  Every minute of it!  A sure contender for my 2020 Top Reads list.

This review was written voluntarily, and my rating was in no way influenced by the fact that I received a complimentary digital copy of this novel from Head of Zeus via NetGalley. Thanks to Vicky Joss for inviting me to take part in this tour.

Publication date: June 4, 2020    Publisher: Head of Zeus

ISBN: 9781789545142    ASIN: B084G9K9BY     416 pages


About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, Favorite books, Head of Zeus, Historical fiction, NetGalley, Women's fiction and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to “The Sea Gate” by Jane Johnson – Book Review

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  11. carhicks says:

    This sounds so good. I have begun to enjoy books with that gothic feel, especially when the houses/buildings become characters themselves.With that, dual timelines and multi-generational characters, I am definitely interested. I am still pending on NG for this one, but am putting it on my wishlist for Amazon. Great review Lynne.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Damyanti Biswas says:

    This sounds good!


  13. Yes, this does sound good!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Carol says:

    Oh a top read! Sounds great! 🙌😍

    Liked by 1 person

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