Kiya is still grieving for her father when she heads out into the Yorkshire countryside on her bicycle, and chances upon an advertisement in a post office window. A local man apparently needs a housekeeper, and Kiya is intrigued to find that the ladies in the shop are astonished that she seems interested in the job. She is told that the man is “strange”, but she decides that she has nothing to lose by applying. She has lost both her parents to cancer in the last few years, her home is up for sale, and she has little reason to ignore this chance of a fresh start.
She’s startled to be taken on as housekeeper, after only having an extremely brief telephone conversation with the reclusive stranger. It appears that the ladies in the post office were right. St John is a little strange, after all. In fact, when Kiya arrives at the house and discovers a note pinned to the door, advising her to stay out of his way and even avoid the kitchen at certain times, she begins to wonder what on earth she’s let herself in for.
Bumping into her elusive employer unexpectedly, she reacts with shock, and St John, already convinced that he is a monster, unfit to be seen by outsiders, determines to keep her even further at bay.
Kiya sets to work, bringing life back to a neglected house, restoring it to its former beauty. As she weaves her spell upon his home, St John finds that she has begun to work her magic on him, too, reminding him of happier times, when he knew how to laugh and how to enjoy someone else’s company. Bit by bit, Kiya repairs the damage to the house, and tries to repair the damage to its owner. But though St John’s physical scars may not be as bad as he fears, his emotional wounds will take a lot more tending. Can Kiya reach the lonely, tortured man behind the aloof facade, or will St John’s pain ensure he remains forever a sad recluse?
I absolutely loved this novel, reading it in one sitting. I found myself completely absorbed from the first page, and couldn’t put it down. Kiya is a lovely heroine, full of compassion and understanding, but with enough spirit to ensure St John’s defensive attitude doesn’t break her. Dominic – St John’s best friend, and the only person who really knows him – is an excellent character. He has empathy, humour, kindness, and a streak of mischief. As for St John himself – well, I couldn’t help but fall for him. I understood his behaviour, and longed for him to believe in himself enough to take a chance.
This is a gorgeous, unashamedly romantic tale of two people who have been through harrowing times, finding each other, and helping each other to heal. It’s the sort of book that leaves you feeling all contented and satisfied, and with a feeling that love really can conquer everything. A wonderful debut novel. 5/5
You can buy Beauty and the Recluse here.