Review: She Came to Stay by Eleni Kyriacou (2020)

Blurb

London, 1952. Dina Demetriou has travelled from Cyprus for a better life. She’s certain that excitement, adventure and opportunity are out there, waiting – if only she knew where to look.

Her passion for clothes and flair for sewing land her a job repairing the glittering costumes at the notorious Pelican Revue. It’s here that she befriends the mysterious and beautiful Bebba.

With her bleached-blonde hair and an appetite for mischief, Bebba is like no Greek Dina has ever met before. She guides Dina around the fashionable shops, bars and clubs of Soho, and Dina finally feels life has begun.

But Bebba has a secret. And as thick smog brings the city to a standstill, the truth emerges with devastating results. Dina’s new life now hangs by a thread. What will be left when the fog finally clears? And will Dina be willing to risk everything to protect her future?

A story of friendship, family, love and loss set against the grimy and glittering streets of fifties Soho. For fans of Kate Furnivall and Rachel Rhys.

Review

Many thanks to the author for sending me a copy She Came to Stay in exchange for an honest review. I owe Eleni an apology for taking so long to get around to reading this, but I’m so glad I did, as I really enjoyed it.

She Came to Stay is such an atmospheric novel – the thick swirling smog that fills the streets, creeps under doorways, catches in the characters’ throats, becomes a sinister presence in the story, a poisonous, yellow-tinged evil that aligns perfectly with the darker side of this book. London in 1952 is perfectly evoked, from the fashion to the first stirrings of a more emancipated post-war era, and the details and descriptions are wonderful.

What I liked most about the story is that it genuinely took me by surprise. This makes it quite hard to review, as I don’t want to give away the unexpected swerve I felt the story took – suffice to say it is a brilliant exploration of the changing dynamics between the three main characters, and as Dina, Beppa and Peter move into closer proximity, the results are dramatic and gripping. All three characters are nuanced and intriguing, and, as with real life, we don’t see all sides of them at once. Instead, as the story progresses, their complexities are revealed, in a way that rings very true.

There is a really good balance of thoughtful examination of what it means to be an immigrant, to leave your home country behind in search of the fabled ‘better life,’ and a full-blown mystery that dramatically unravels. It’s not easy to hold both strands confidently in a narrative, but Eleni Kyriacou does it with aplomb, and it creates a lovely tension between the interior lives of the protagonists and the thriller-esque events they have to face. I liked the change of pace as the novel gathers momentum and becomes more thriller-like in its second half – I always enjoy reading books that play around with mode and genre, and She Came to Stay does this brilliantly.

Conventional attitudes at the time are similarly juxtaposed with the real feelings of the characters, creating yet more conflict and tension as they struggle to fit into a world that seems set against them. It is a fascinating story, full of intrigue and excitement, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. She Came to Stay would appeal to lovers of both historical fiction and thrillers, marrying as it does both genres in an interesting and compelling way.

She Came to Stay by Eleni Kyriacou is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available to purchase here.

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