The Last Village by Audla English – Two stories of life in North East England

A searing elegy for a place, a romance and a way of life in one very neat package, “The Last Village” is a novel which draws parallels with a contemporary love affair. Set in the lovely area surrounding Souter lighthouse in the North East of England, and the bright lights of Newcastle, this is the story of Anna discovering her grandmother’s story. Full of engaging details of the locality, this is the story of life changing love amid friendships that overlap. A book of the social history of a village and a childhood friendship that begins on the first day of school in 1933, this is a book which ranges over some decades, full of the excitement of first love. A positive tale of a community of miners and those connected with the work of lighthouse in the middle of the twentieth century, this is the story of a young woman in a gentle setting with some life changing dramatic aspects. The contemporary story is a contrast with more of the choices open to women in today’s world, but also the priorities they can choose. I found this an engaging read with some lovely descriptions of the village which surrounded a lighthouse. I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely novel. 


Anna is a lawyer in Newcastle as the book opens in 2017. She has fond memories of her childhood visits to her grandmother’s cottage where she sometimes spent the night in a special bedroom. More importantly she loves hearing her grandmother’s stories of her past life. Anna has a good friend, Nora, who has been part of her life for many years. It is when Nora becomes engaged to Tim that Anna’s thoughts go romance, and she asks her grandmother, Lily, for details of her life.  Lily tells her of how she grew up in Marsden, in a terraced house overlooked by the lighthouse. How she met her best friends Nell and Harry on the first day of school, and how they grew together enjoying exploring the village and beach all within the area around the village. A special place is the Beach Grotto pub, on the beach at the bottom of two hundred steps. There is also a cave which they find and use as their own, putting their own blankets and supplies in there. The Second World War comes and leaves life in the village largely unchanged. When Nell and Harry become close, Lily discovers her own love, and all seems wonderful.


Meanwhile Anna finds discovers a different side to her friend Nora, and that makes her wonder about the choices that she makes. I found this an easy read with much to recommend it as a story about love and priorities in different periods. It presents a much more cheerful picture of life in the north east of England than is often the case, though it also includes danger and drama. It is a well balanced novel, with two clearly defined time zones. There is real suspense here, and some element of tragedy. A good read which I enjoyed greatly.