The Exiles


The Exiles’ is the debut novel from Hilary McKay. She introduces us to Rachel, Naomi, Ruth and Phoebe Conroy, sisters of character, curiosity and reading devotion. 

The school year staggers to a close. Thoughts are turning toward summer, and books to be read, places to be explored. However fate has other ideas in the form of a bequest for the Conroys. Though the girls take this to mean a change in their individual fortunes, their parents have plans for the money that necessitate the girls becoming ‘The Exiles’. They’re off to Cumbria and the charge of their Big Grandma.

Big Grandma brooks no nonsense. She believes the girls are illogical, fey, irresponsible and ill-mannered. In an effort to reform them, the sisters find her home bereft of books. Further, there are chores to be done, walks to be taken, deadlines to be met. Something changes in the company. 

We readers are party to something quite magical, that leaves us laughing, warm, satisfied and longing for further encounters with ‘The Exiles’. Big Grandma and the Conroy girls are not the only ones saddened at summer’s end.


The Exiles

Hilary McKay

(Pan Macmillan)

The Conroy sisters look forward to predictably idle summer holidays, punctuated by reading. They are unprepared to become ‘The Exiles’ sent to stay with their stalwart Big Grandma in Cumbria. There will be no books with Big Grandma; she finds her granddaughters ill-disciplined and irresponsible. Her neighbours, including local farm boy, Graham, have been informed about the ‘loony’ girls. Feelings of curiosity and empathy abound. 
Is a summer with Big Grandma as horrible as the girls anticipate? Will the Conroy girls prove as illogical as the neighbourhood believe? Can the girls unearth anything to read? Will they find their supply of saucepans and cooking utensils hidden at the beach? 
The Exiles’ is Hilary McKay’s debut novel and won the Guardian First Novel award. This edition is a reprisal by author and publisher. Its impact and instant success are understandable. ‘The Exiles’ is a joy, the sort of book that fills the reader with deep, warm satisfaction. We are party to the track of this wonderful writer’s passage to her Costa Award for The Skylarks’ War


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