The Opportunity of a Lifetime

Emma Smith wrote this excellent tale of 1937 Cornwall in the late 1970s, insightful words that whisked me away to that simpler time and place for a few hours. The narrator, Nora, is a fifteen-year-old on a seaside holiday with her older sister Cynthia and her neurotic parents, only a few miles from their home. Two elderly sisters heard of their predicament of not having anywhere to go for the holiday and offered up their tea cottage, the Rose Cafe, for the two weeks. While there, the parents scheme to buy the land and develop a hotel on the spot. Nora meets a 15-year-old boy, Terry, who’s run away from reform school, and is living in a tent while stealing food. There’s the ancestral brooch that Cynthia steals from her mother, the boredom she feels towards the men who swarm her, the devious Peter Miller who is managing the other swanky hotel, the Willis family whose paterfamilias lectures Nora about schools not teaching the right thing. The story is framed from the perspective of 35 years later, triggered by the receipt of a letter from her childhood maid, Beatrice, that includes a clipping of one of the Willis children. Once the tale is told, Nora as middle-aged woman ventures back to live by the sea, near Beatrice, again.