The golden thread that runs through Elle Bishop’s life is the summer cabin that she and her family return to every summer of her fifty-odd years, set in the backwoods of Cape Cod. It is a world of freshwater ponds, where a giant snapping turtle is rumoured to lie, of bright dragonflies, of barefoot sandy feet and unspoken family secrets lurking under the surface.
The narrative splits between Elle’s present life, a single day unfolding at the cabin and the past, presented chronologically from her childhood through to the present day. Her past is described in vivid detail, from the divorce of her parents, her relationship with her older sister and her bond with her childhood best friend from Cape Cod, Jonas.
The beauty of the story is in the details. The summer setting is the backbone of the book and is described so evocatively, from the boozy WASP community that returns every year to the same place, to the never-changing, cosy shabbiness of the cabin itself. The pages keep turning thanks to the skillful telling of Elle’s story, including a traumatic, life-changing event that sets in motion the rest of her life and ripples through the book.
The perfect summer read, The Paper Palace will have you dreaming of intense summer friendships, childhood beach escapes and school holidays, marked by endless days of delicious emptiness, seemingly stretching on forever. There is a particular place in our hearts for those memories, made all the more poignant by the realities and difficulties of adulthood. Cowley Heller brings them all to life beautifully.