Cover Your Eyes, published by Quercus, is a welcome return to writing for adults from Adele Geras, who is also a much-loved writer of books for children and young adults (notably Troy and the Egerton Hall trilogy). It tells the story of two women, the charming and rather mysterious eighty-year-old Eva Conway, once a famous fashion designer, and Megan Pritchard, a young journalist who is sent to interview her.
Megan has been having an affair with her married boss, Simon. At the beginning of the book, her hopes that he will leave his wife for her are dashed when he tells her that the affair must end because his wife is pregnant. Shattered and deeply wounded, she leaves her job. Her father is in New Zealand and her mother is dead; the only person she can confide in is her best friend Jay - and Jay is in America. The only positive thing in her world at the moment is an article she has written about Eva Conway. When it comes out, however, she finds it has been edited – badly, she thinks – by Simon. She becomes fixated on the idea that she must take a copy of the magazine to Eva and explain why the text is not the same as the one she had sent Eva for approval.
And so the action moves to Salix House, where Eva’s daughter, Rowena, has told her that her beloved house (in trust for Rowena to avoid death duties) must be sold, because they can’t afford to keep it up. It makes far more sense, she says, for them all to move to London, where Rowena works. Eva is distraught. Salix House means everything to her: it ‘had been at the same time a source of happiness and a repository of memories, many of which made her shiver even now.’ The difficult memories, we find, concern her marriage, but they go back even further, to when Eva first arrived in England from Germany many years ago.
Despite her own troubles, Eva is concerned by Megan's unhappiness. Although on the surface they would seem to have little in common, they are in tune in a way in which Eva and her daughter clearly are not. Rowena is urgently looking for a temporary nanny for her two daughters, and it quickly dawns on everyone that if Megan were to take on the job, it would solve a number of problems all at the same time.
The book’s prologue has already suggested that there is something mysterious and disturbing at Salix House. ‘She’s there. I’ve covered up her reflection in the mirror but I know she’s there. I’m under the blankets. I can’t breathe...’ There are things far back in Eva’s past which she has never been able to face, and, perhaps because of her own unhappiness, Megan too begins to see fleeting images in mirrors and to sense a restless presence. So both their stories unfold: we gradually find out about Eva’s past, whilst at the same time Megan’s present and future unfold.
Eva is a fascinating character – strong but also vulnerable, loving but apparently unable to love her own daughter, capable but oddly passive. I felt like cheering when she finally faced up to the past and took charge of her future, and I'd actually quite like a whole book just about her. (The descriptions of her dress designs, for instance, are delicious and intriguing.) With Megan, on the other hand, I felt quite cross, but that’s probably because I’m a fair bit closer to Eva’s age than I am to Megan’s, so that when Megan is agonising over Simon, I feel a little impatient with her – can’t she see how awful he is? When the truth, of course is, that she can’t, because she’s never been in love before.
This is the perfect book to curl up with on a dreary winter’s evening. You will not want to put it down till you have unravelled the mystery of Salix House, and – unless you are very cynical indeed! – you will be delighted at the way that everything is resolved. Adele Geras is expert at handling the intertwining narratives, at drip-feeding clues about Eva’s past, and at ratchetting up the tension. A haunting tale, in more ways than one!