There’s always been something odd about Cynthia’s next door neighbour, Miss Hatfield. Something beyond the strangely familiar miniature photographs and ramshackle house. And when Miss Hatfield tricks Cynthia into drinking a drop of the Fountain of Youth, she finds herself immortal.
She is the new Miss Hatfield and the next in line to the curse and blessing that is her legacy.
But immortality has a price. Becoming the new Miss Hatfield means letting go of who she was.
Tasked by her predecessor with recovering a mysterious painting, Cynthia finds herself in turn of the century New York. But someone else has followed her…
It is rare to have a Letter To The Reader at the front of a novel from its editor. Of course, it’s also rare to read a 17-year-old’s second novel when it comes from a major house like Gollancz and follows only a self-published debut. But with The Seventh Miss Hatfield, Anna Caltabiano clearly marks why these things can sometimes happen…
The Seventh Miss Hatfield is a time travel romance, a new addition in an increasingly broad tradition. As a romance, one expects to see the characterisation and emotional depth having special and significant emphasis laid upon them; Caltabiano manages incredibly well to write an eternal, ageless – but also seventeen year old – girl, born at the end of the 1940s and trying to fit into the early years of the twentieth century. We see the inner life of Cynthia so incredibly powerfully and vividly, and from her first-person narration see her conflicts so well-drawn, that Caltabiano’s authorial chops are well proven. The cast Cynthia observes and describes to the reader are also all impressively rounded, interesting people, not just Henley Beaufort, her impossible love, but Rebecca Hatfield, Nellie the servant-girl, and more. They’re all of their time and the way Cynthia comments on the fin de siecle attitudes of those around her is truly wonderful.
The plot is more romance than anything else. The Seventh Miss Hatfield isn’t terribly interested in the implications of time-travel on a broader scale than the personal, nor in the art theft; rather, Caltabiano is very much focused on interior lives, relationships between characters, and growing up. This is, of course, no bad thing, but it is something to be aware of when going into the book; this beautifully written set of relationships is handled masterfully and sensitively, with development and two-way influence with the rest of the plots in the book that really make it meaningful. Indeed, the way the concerns of the plot and of the characters’ emotions interact is one of the glories of this book, as they act contrary to reality and their emotions for well-explained and good reasons. This isn’t a book of happily ever afters, it’s a book of gains and costs.
In the end, from any writer this would be a beautiful romance novel; but coming from the 17-year-old Anna Caltabiano, The Seventh Miss Hatfield is something of a revelation.
DoI: Review based on an ARC solicited from the publisher, Gollancz. The Seventh Miss Hatfield will be released on 31st July.