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  • Headline Review
  • Headline Review
  • Headline Review

The Key: The most gripping, heartbreaking novel of World War Two historical fiction

Kathryn Hughes

9 Reviews

Rated 0

Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)

The discovery of an old suitcase in an abandoned lunatic asylum unlocks a forgotten story of tragedy, lost love and a devastating wrong waiting to be put right, from the #1 bestselling author of The Letter and The Secret


A hidden note. A lost love. A second chance...

'A wonderful, enthralling story; one that I didn't want to end' Lesley Pearse on The Key

'A heartbreakingly powerful read' The Sun on The Key

From the #1 bestselling author of The Letter, Kathryn Hughes, comes The Key, an unforgettable story of a heartbreaking secret that will stay with you for ever.

It's Ellen Crosby's first day as a student nurse at Ambergate Hospital. When she meets a young woman admitted by her father, little does Ellen know that a choice she will make is to change both their lives for ever...

Sarah is drawn to the now abandoned Ambergate. Whilst exploring the old corridors she discovers a suitcase belonging to a female patient who entered Ambergate fifty years earlier. The shocking contents, untouched for half a century, will lead Sarah to unravel a forgotten story of tragedy and lost love, and the chance to make an old wrong right . . .

'Oh wow! This story broke my heart then filled it with joy then broke it all over again! I adored The Letter and The Secret but this I have to say was my favourite. Heartfelt and poignant an absolute joy' A reader on The Key

It's time to discover what a million readers already know. No one grips your heart like Kathryn Hughes . . .

'You will find it hard to put down. I cried buckets of tears reading it'

'A beautifully told, tragic tale . . . restoring your faith in the kindness of strangers and the strength of the human spirit'

'From start to finish, a lovely, sometimes heartbreaking read'

'A sheer joy to read . . . Wonderfully romantic with beautiful characters'

'I have finished this book with tears in my eyes but a smile on my face'

'I couldn't put it down. So beautifully written. I feel like I'm a better person for reading it'

'I cried with this book - it tugged at the heart all the way through'

'This must be one of the best books I have ever read'

'You will be thinking of this book long after you've finished it'

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Praise for The Key: The most gripping, heartbreaking novel of World War Two historical fiction

  • Hughes creates a sense of time and place effortlessly. The social context is incredibly important and once again, conveyed so well that the reader feels immersed in the world of Ambergate. Even though some of the story is set in the past, it still feels relevant and still raises questions about attitudes to mental illness, trauma, motherhood and grief - Bibliomaniac on The Key

  • Praise for Kathryn Hughes - - -

  • The Letter was a bestseller. The author's second, The Secret, is just as gripping - Good Housekeeping

  • Autumnal Sunday afternoons were invented solely to read heart-tugging novels like this - Red

  • An emotional and intriguing read... Keeps you guessing right to the end ***** - People's Friend

  • A moving story of love, loss and hope - Bella

  • This moving love story had everyone talking... Get set to be hooked - Look

  • Have lots of tissues ready - My Weekly

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Reader reviews (1)

  • 4.5?s The Key is the third novel by British author, Kathryn Hughes. In 2006, while living with her recently widowed father, thirty-eight-year-old librarian Sarah Charlton makes daily visits to the now derelict Ambergate Hospital. She is writing a history of the asylum because she feels it is important research, a story that needs to be told. While there, she has encountered an eighteen-year-old runaway, Nathan who seems willing, even eager to assist. Inexplicably, Sarah’s father, who once worked at the asylum, is less enthusiastic about her hobby. In late 1956, Student Nurse Ellen Crosby began working at Ambergate County Lunatic Asylum not long before young Amy Sullivan was brought in by her father. Ellen felt a connection to this woman of her own age, incarcerated for what seemed to be no real reason. It was evident to Ellen that Amy was not in any way mad but, from her lowly position, she had no hope of influencing the sister in charge, let alone the resident psychiatrist, Dr Lambourn. While Amy does her utmost to convince Dr Lambourn that she is fit to be released home, even as he becomes inclined to agree, events ensure that Amy’s stay will be longer than anyone had ever intended. It’s a situation that was repeated often during that period in history. The depth of research that Hughes has done into practices commonly employed in mid-twentieth-century psychiatric institutions, many of which may leave the reader gasping, is apparent on every page. Hughes easily evokes the era, in particular with societal attitudes, but also with the general way of life portrayed. Her main characters develop from their initial somewhat flat typecast as their flaws and weaknesses, and their strengths, are revealed. Their dialogue is credible and the paths that their lives take is entirely believable. The story is told through four narrative strands: the perspectives of Ellen, Amy and Dr Lambourn describe events in the asylum during the late 1950s, while Sarah’s account deals with the lives of the main characters fifty years later, as well as including a minor mystery set in the present day, and elements of Sarah’s life that distract from her research. Many readers will correctly guess part of the mystery, but the potential for an overly-contrived happily-ever-after ending is thankfully not realised in place of the more realistic conclusion that Hughes provides. An interesting and moving piece of historical fiction. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by Hachette Australia.

    Marianne Vincent

    Rated 5
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Kathryn Hughes

Kathryn Hughes was born in Altrincham, near Manchester. After completing a secretarial course, Kathryn met her husband and they married in Canada. For twenty-nine years they ran a business together, raised two children and travelled when they could to places such as India, Singapore, South Africa and New Zealand. Kathryn and her family now make their home in a village near Manchester.

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