‘One hot summer,
One dark secret,
Unravelling the past can be dangerous….’
The Last Lost Girl is the debut novel from Irish writer Maria Hoey. Spanning thirty-seven years it tells the story of missing Festival Queen, Lilly Brennan in 1976 and the repercussions of this traumatic event on the lives of those closest to her.
Just published this Summer by Poolbeg Crimson, The Last Lost Girl has been described by the RTE Guide as both ‘haunting and mesmerising‘.
Please do read on for my as always voluntary and unbiased review…
On a perfect July evening in the sizzling Irish summer of 1976, fifteen-year-old Festival Queen Lilly Brennan disappears. Thirty-seven years later, as the anniversary of Lilly’s
disappearance approaches, her sister Jacqueline returns to their childhood home in Blackberry Lane. There she stumbles upon something that reopens the mystery, setting her on a search for the truth – a search that leads her to surprising places and challenging encounters.
Jacqueline feels increasingly compelled to find the answer to what happened to Lilly all those years ago and finally lay her ghost to rest. But at what cost? For unravelling the past proves to be a dangerous and painful thing, and her path to the truth leads her ever closer to a dark secret she may not wish to know.
‘Even the tar on the road is sweating. Daddy says this is the hottest month of the hottest summer in living memory. Lily’s radio is playing “Young Hearts Run Free”‘
The nostalgic atmosphere strikes the reader right from the opening page. The Last Lost Girl is the story of the Brennan family and how their world changed forever during the Summer of 1976. Three sisters, Gayle, Lilly and Jacqueline are all so very different. Gayle, the eldest, is only interested in running, Lilly is a self obsessed young lady on the cusp of those teenage years and Jacqueline, at eleven, looks on with envy and with a very inquisitive mind. Their parents, Frank and Stella are happy, with the usual challenges faced by any parents with three daughters. Life is good for the Brennans.
Lilly is a teenage fireball, completely self-absorbed, as many a teenager is, with her image, with boys being top of her agenda. A handful for her parents and at times quite snippy with her younger sister Jacqueline, Lilly pushes the boundaries. But one fateful evening, these boundaries get pushed a little too far and Lilly disappears.
What happened to Lilly remains a mystery. For Jacqueline, her life has passed her by in a blur. Her parent’s marriage disintegrated under the strain of Lilly’s disappearance and her sister, Gayle, married and moved to the UK. As the years moved on, her mother, Stella, passed away and Frank’ s life spiraled into a cycle of alcohol and loneliness. Jacqueline now lives in a remote part of Donegal and has chosen a life away from people, away from crowds. The once vivacious eleven-year old now lost to a different time.
Jacqueline comes home on a very rare visit to her father. She spends a few very special days with him before his untimely passing. As she struggles to deal with her loss, she happens upon an unexpected piece of information that takes her right back to that fateful day in 1976 when Lilly disappeared.
So begins a journey for Jacqueline and she follows a trail that takes her to unexpected places. She meets some fascinating characters along the way as she slowly unearths the truth. But digging up old memories has it’s consequences and is Jacqueline willing to face up to a truth that has remained hidden for so long?
The Last Lost Girl is an enthralling read that takes the reader on an almost hypnotic journey. Being a child of the Seventies, the descriptions from that era evoked such strong personal memories. I closed my eyes and I was there. To me, as a reader, that is the sign of a powerful story. To be able to arouse such feelings from the written word is a wonderful talent for any writer to hold and Maria Hoey has this talent in abundance.
The pages of this novel are packed full with nostalgic imagery of a time past. One of the elements I personally loved throughout this trip down memory lane were the constant references to Lilly’s radio and the music playing on it. It was very easy to remember back and for that Maria Hoey…I thank you.
The story of Lilly and Jacqueline is a very emotional-filled pilgrimage. The title of the novel, The Last Lost Girl, will have many different interpretations for readers I’m sure, but for me this is Jacqueline’s story.
A soul-searching journey for the truth, that is packed full of nostalgia, with a heartfelt yearning for a life free from the baggage of the past…
I highly recommend…
Purchase Link ~ The Last Lost Girl
About Maria Hoey:
Maria Hoey has been writing since she was eight years old. Her poetry has appeared in Ireland foremost poetry publication, Poetry Ireland, and her poems and short stories have also appeared in various magazines.
In 1999, Maria won first prize in the Swords Festival Short Story Competition. In 2010, she was runner-up in the Mslexia International Short Story Competition and was also shortlisted for the Michael McLaverty Short Story Award.
Maria was raised in Swords, Co Dublin, and has one daughter, Rebecca. She lives in Portmarnock with her husband, Dr Garrett O Boyle.
The Last Lost Girl is her first novel.
Twitter ~ @MariaHoey