Gaynor has written a lyrical historical fiction novel based on the Cottingley fairy photographs taken by two cousins during World War II. The story weaves the old legend of the Cottingley Fairies with the present day character Oliva Kavanagh. The novel is told in dual story lines between the cousins in 1917 Cottingley, Yorkshire and Oliva Kavanagh in modern day Ireland.
Oliva’s grandfather has died, willing his bookshop in Ireland to her. Oliva is living in London and is engaged to be married in the near future. Returning to the town she grew up in brings back fond memories, especially of the bookstore. Oliva is faced with many decisions to make – what to do with the bookstore, her grandparent’s cottage and who will look in on her grandmother who suffers from dementia. As Oliva cleans up the shop she discovers an old manuscript written by Frances Griffiths and is fascinated with it.
Griffiths is one of two cousins who convinced the world that they had successfully photographed fairies in their family garden. Nine-year-old Frances and her mother have returned to Cottingley from South Africa to live with family while her father goes off to fight in the war. Elsie Wright, her older cousin, and Frances become great friends.
When Frances claims she sees fairies in the garden, her mother, aunt and uncle don’t believe her and forbid her from playing in the garden anymore. Frances truly sees fairies and is distraught. Elsie, who is quite the artist, draws some fairies and convinces Frances that they should stage the drawings in the garden and take photos with Uncle Arthur’s new camera. The four photos have the adults questioning the girls who claim repeatedly that the photos are real.
Aunt Polly begins showing others the photos and the hoax grows. The girls only took the photos so that Francis would be allowed to play in the garden. When photos gain attention the girls promise each other to keep the drawings a secret. The photos attract the attention of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; he is convinced they are authentic and publishes two articles about fairies being real in the “Strand Magazine. ”The girls keep their secret for decades. Frances had written down the whole story, which is the manuscript that Oliva finds in her grandfather’s bookshop.
As Oliva spends more time in Ireland, she begins to question her future life in London. She visits her grandmother often and brings and reads the manuscript with her. In moments of awareness she learns more about the fairies and the cousins from her grandmother, including the existence of a fifth photo of fairies that wasn’t drawn by Elsie. As Oliva sets out to solve the mystery of the manuscript she takes a journey of self-discovery. What will her future look like?
This enchanting story full of charming characters and childhood magic will have you wondering if fairies are real and in the power of belief. Be sure to read the note from Christine Lynch, the daughter of Frances Griffith, in the back of the book and take time to view the photos there too.