The Girl on the Cliff

The Girl on the Cliff

by Lucinda Riley


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From the author of the international bestseller The Orchid House, comes a mesmerizing story about two Irish families and the tangled ties that have bound them since World War I.

From the author of the #1 international bestseller The Orchid House, the mesmerizing story of two Irish families entangled by a tragic past that seems destined to repeat itself

To escape a recent heartbreak in New York, Grania Ryan returns to her family home on the rugged, wind-swept coast of Ireland. Here, on the cliff edge in the middle of a storm, she meets a young girl, Aurora Lisle, who will profoundly change her life.

Despite the warnings Grania receives from her mother to be wary of the Lisle family, Aurora and Grania forge a close friendship. Through a trove of old family letters dating from 1914, Grania begins to learn just how deeply their families’ histories are entwined. The horrors of World War I, the fate of a beautiful foundling child, and the irresistible lure of the ballet give rise to a legacy of heartache that leaves its imprint on each new generation. Ultimately, it will be Aurora whose intuition and spirit may be able to unlock the chains of the past.

Sweeping from Edwardian England to present-day New York, from the majestic Irish coast to the crumbling splendor of a legendary London town house, The Girl on the Cliff introduces two remarkable women whose quest to understand their past sends them toward a future where love can triumph over loss.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781451655827
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: 10/30/2012
Edition description: Original
Pages: 407
Sales rank: 435,303
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of over twenty novels, including The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, and the Seven Sisters series. Her books have sold twenty million copies in thirty-five languages globally. She was born in Ireland and divides her time between England and West Cork with her husband and four children. Visit her online at

Read an Excerpt

The Girl on the Cliff
Dunworley Bay, West Cork, Ireland

The small figure was standing perilously close to the edge of the cliff. Her luxuriant, long red hair had been caught by the strong breeze and was flying out behind her. A thin white cotton dress reached to her ankles and exposed her small, bare feet. Her arms were held taut, palms facing out toward the foaming mass of gray sea beneath her, her pale face looking upward, as if she were offering herself as a sacrifice to the elements.

Grania Ryan stood watching her, hypnotized by the wraithlike vision. Her senses were too jumbled to tell her whether what she was seeing before her was real or imagined. She closed her eyes for a split second, then reopened them, and saw that the figure was still there. With the appropriate messages sent to her brain, she took a couple of tentative steps forward.

As she drew nearer, Grania realized the figure was no more than a child; that the white cotton she was wearing was a nightdress. Grania could see the black storm clouds hovering out over the sea and the first saltwater droplets of impending rain stung her cheeks. The frailty of the small human against the wildness of her surroundings made her steps toward the child more urgent in pace.

The wind was whipping around her ears now and had started to voice its rage. Grania stopped ten yards from the girl, who was still unmoving. She saw the tiny blue toes holding her stoically to the rock, as the rising wind whipped and swayed her thin body like a willow sapling. She moved closer to the girl, stopping just behind her, uncertain of what to do next. Grania’s instinct was to run forward and grab her, but if the girl was startled and turned around, one missed footfall could result in unthinkable tragedy, taking the child to certain death on the foam-covered rocks a hundred feet below.

Grania stood, panic gripping her as she desperately tried to think of the best way to remove her from danger. But before she could reach a decision, the girl slowly turned around and stared at her with unseeing eyes.

Instinctively Grania held out her arms. “I won’t hurt you, I promise. Walk toward me and you’ll be safe.”

Still the girl stared at her, not moving from her spot on the edge of the cliff.

“I can take you home if you tell me where you live. You’ll catch your death out here. Please, let me help you,” Grania begged.

She took another step toward the child, and then, as if the girl had woken up from a dream, a look of fear crossed her face. Instantly, she turned to her right and began to run away from Grania along the cliff’s edge, disappearing from view.

• • •

“I was just about to be sending out the search party for you. That storm’s blowing up well and good, so it is.”

“Mam, I’m thirty-one years old, and I’ve lived in Manhattan for the past ten of those,” replied Grania drily as she entered the kitchen and hung her wet jacket over the AGA stove. “You don’t have to mind me. I’m a big girl now, remember?” She smiled as she walked toward her mother, who was setting the table for supper, and kissed her on the cheek. “Really.”

“That’s as may be, but I’ve known stronger men by far blown off the cliff in a gale like this.” Kathleen Ryan indicated the wildness of the wind outside the kitchen window, which was causing the flowerless wisteria bush to tap its twiggy brown deadness monotonously against the pane. “I’ve just made a brew.” Kathleen wiped her hands on her apron and walked toward the AGA. “Would you be wanting a cup?”

“That would be grand, Mam. Why don’t you sit down and take the weight off your feet for a few minutes, and I’ll pour it for both of us?” Grania steered her mother to a kitchen chair, pulled it back from the table and sat her gently onto it.

“Only five minutes, mind, the boys will be back at six for their tea.”

As Grania poured the strong liquid into two cups, she raised a silent eyebrow at her mother’s domestic dedication to her husband and her son. Not that anything had changed in the past ten years since she’d been away—Kathleen had always pandered to her men, putting their needs and desires first. But the contrast of her mother’s life to her own, where emancipation and equality of the sexes was standard, made Grania feel uncomfortable.

And yet . . . for all her own freedom from what many modern women would consider outdated male tyranny, who was currently the most content out of mother and daughter? Grania sighed sadly as she added milk to her mother’s tea. She knew the answer to that.

“There you go, Mam. Would you like a biscuit?” Grania put the tin in front of Kathleen and opened it. As usual, it was full to the brim with custard creams, bourbons and shortbread rounds. Another relic of childhood, and one that would be looked on with the same horror as a small nuclear device by her figure-conscious New York contemporaries.

Kathleen took two and said, “Go on, have one yourself to keep me company. To be sure, you don’t eat enough to keep a mouse alive.”

Grania nibbled dutifully at a biscuit, thinking how, ever since she’d arrived home ten days ago, she’d felt stuffed to bursting with her mother’s copious home cooking. Yet Grania would say that she had the healthiest appetite out of most of the women she knew in New York. And she actually used her oven as it was designed for, not as a convenient place to store plates.

“The walk cleared your head a little, did it?” ventured Kathleen, making her way through her third biscuit. “Whenever I have a problem in my mind to be sorted, I’ll be off walking and come back knowing the answer.”

“Actually . . .” Grania took a sip of tea. “I saw something strange, Mam, when I was out. A little girl, maybe eight or nine, standing in her nightie right up on the cliff’s edge. She had beautiful long, curly red hair . . . it was as if she was sleepwalking, because she turned to look at me when I walked toward her and her eyes were”—she searched for the right description—“blank. Like she wasn’t seeing me. Then she seemed to wake up and scampered off like a startled rabbit up the cliff path. Do you know who she might have been?”

Grania watched the color drain from Kathleen’s face. “Are you OK, Mam?”

Kathleen visibly shook herself. She stared at her daughter. “You say you saw her just a few minutes ago on your walk?”


“Mary, Mother of God.” Kathleen crossed herself. “They’re back.”

“Who’s ‘back,’ Mam?” asked Grania, concerned by how shaken her mother seemed to be.

“Why have they returned?” Kathleen stared off through the window and into the night. “Why would they be wanting to? I thought . . . I thought it was finally over, that they’d be gone for good.” Kathleen grabbed Grania’s hand. “Are you sure it was a little girl you saw, not a grown woman?”

“Positive, Mam. As I said, she was aged about eight or nine. I was concerned for her; she had nothing on her feet and looked frozen. To be honest, I wondered whether I was seeing a ghost.”

“You were of a fashion, Grania,” Kathleen muttered. “They can only have arrived back in the past few days. I was coming over the hill last Friday and I passed right by the house. It was gone ten in the evening and there were no lights shining from the windows. The old place was shut up.”

“Where would this be?”

“Dunworley House.”

“The big deserted one that stands right on the top of the cliff up past us?” asked Grania. “That’s been empty for years, hasn’t it?”

“It was empty for your childhood, yes, but”—Kathleen sighed—“they came back after you’d moved to New York. And then, when the . . . accident happened, left. Nobody thought we’d be seeing them around these parts again. And we were glad of it,” she underlined. “There’s a history there, between them and us, stretching back a long way. Now”—Kathleen slapped the table and made to stand up—“What’s past is past, and I’d advise you to stay away from them. They bring nothing but trouble to this family, so they do.”

Grania watched her mother as she walked over to the AGA, her face set hard as she lifted the heavy iron pot containing the evening meal out of one of the ovens. “Surely if that child I saw has a mother, she would want to know about the danger her daughter was in today?” she probed.

“She has no mother.” Kathleen’s wooden spoon stirred the stew rhythmically.

“She’s dead?”


“I see . . . so who looks after the poor child?”

“Don’t be asking me about their domestic arrangements.” Kathleen shrugged. “I couldn’t care and I don’t want to know.”

Grania frowned. Her mother’s attitude was totally contrary to the way she would normally respond. Kathleen’s big, maternal heart beat hard and loud for any poor thing in trouble. She was the first round to a member of the family, or friends, if there was a problem and support was needed. Especially when it came to children.

“How did her mother die?”

The wooden spoon ceased its circling of the pot and there was silence. Finally, Kathleen gave a heavy sigh and turned to face her daughter. “Well now, I suppose if I’m not telling you, you’ll hear it soon enough from someone else. She took her own life, did Lily Lisle.”

“You’re saying she committed suicide?”

“It’s one and the same thing, Grania.”

“How long ago?”

“She threw herself off the cliff four years ago. Her body was found two days later, washed up on Inchydoney beach.”

It was Grania’s turn to stay silent. Finally, she ventured, “Where did she jump from?”

“From the sound of things, probably where you set eyes on her daughter today. I’d say Aurora was looking for her mammy.”

“You know her name?”

“Of course. ’Tis hardly a secret. The Lisle family used to own the whole of Dunworley, including this very house. They were the lords and masters round here a long time ago. They sold off their land in the sixties, but kept the house up on the cliff.”

“I’ve seen the name somewhere—Lisle . . .”

“The local churchyard is filled with their graves. Including hers.”

“And you’ve seen the little girl—Aurora—out on the cliffs before?”

“That’s why her daddy took her away. After she died, that little mite would walk along the cliffs calling for her. Half mad with grief she was.”

Grania could see her mother’s face had softened slightly. “Poor little thing,” she breathed.

“Yes, it was a pitiful sight and she didn’t deserve any of it, but there’s a badness that runs through that family. You listen to what I say, Grania, and don’t be getting yourself mixed up with them.”

“I wonder why they’re back?” Grania murmured, almost to herself.

“Those Lisles are a law unto themselves. I don’t know and I don’t care. Now, will you be making yourself useful and helping me set the table for tea?”

• • •

Grania went upstairs to her bedroom at just past ten o’clock, as she’d done every night since she’d arrived home. Downstairs, her mother was busy in the kitchen laying out the table for breakfast, her father was dozing in the chair in front of the TV and her brother, Shane, was at the village pub. Between the two men, they ran the 500-acre farm, the land mostly given over to dairy herd and sheep. At twenty-nine, the “boy,” as Shane was still affectionately called, seemed to have no intention of moving into his own home. Women came and went, but rarely across the threshold of his parents’ farmhouse. Kathleen raised her eyebrows over her son’s still-unmarried status, but Grania knew her mother would be lost without him.

She climbed between the sheets, listening to the rain battering the windowpanes, and hoped poor Aurora Lisle was tucked up inside, safe and warm. She turned the pages of a book, but found herself yawning and unable to concentrate. Perhaps it was the fresh air here that was making her sleepy; in New York she was rarely in bed before midnight.

In contrast, Grania could scarcely remember a night as a child when her mother had not been at home in the evenings. And if she had to go away overnight on a mission of mercy to care for a sick relative, the preparation to make sure the family did not go hungry or the clothes unwashed was a military operation. As for her father, Grania doubted he had ever spent a night away from his bed in the past thirty-four years of his marriage. He was up at five thirty every morning of his life and off to the milking shed, coming home from the farm whenever dusk fell. Husband and wife knew exactly where the other was at all times. Their lives were as one; joint and inseparable.

And the glue that bound them together was their children.

When she and Matt had moved in together eight years ago, they’d taken it for granted that one day there would be babies. Like any modern couple, until that suitable moment presented itself, they had taken their lives and careers by the throat and lived fast and hard while they could.

And then, one morning, Grania had woken up and, as she did every morning, had thrown on her track pants and hoodie and jogged along the Hudson to Battery Park, stopping at the Winter Garden Atrium to enjoy a latte and bagel. And it was there that it had happened; she’d been sipping her coffee and had glanced down into the pram parked by the next table. Inside was a tiny newborn baby, fast asleep. Grania was beset by a sudden, overwhelming urge to pick the baby up out of its pram, to cradle its soft, downy head protectively against her breast. When the mother had smiled nervously at her, then stood up and pushed the pram away from her unwanted attention, Grania had jogged back home, feeling breathless at the emotion that had been stirred in her.

Expecting it to pass, she’d spent the day in her studio, immersing herself in molding the malleable brown clay into her latest commission, but the feeling hadn’t alleviated.

At six, she’d left her studio, showered and changed into something suitable for the opening of an art gallery she was attending that evening. She’d poured herself a glass of wine and walked to the window that looked across to the twinkling lights of New Jersey on the other side of the Hudson River.

“I want to have a baby.”

Grania had taken a hefty gulp of wine. And giggled at the absurdity of the words she’d just spoken. So she’d said them again, just to make sure.

And they’d still felt right. Not only right, but completely natural, as if the thought and the need had been with her all her life and all the reasons “not to” had simply evaporated and now seemed ridiculous.

Grania had gone out to the gallery opening, made small talk with the usual mix of artists, collectors and envelope-openers that made up such events. Yet, in her mind, she was running through the practicalities of the life-changing decision she had made earlier. Would they have to move? No, probably not in the short term—their TriBeCa loft was spacious and Matt’s study/spare bedroom could easily be turned into a nursery. He rarely used it anyway, preferring to take his laptop into the sitting room and work there. They were up on the fourth floor, but the freight elevator was quite big enough to take a pram. Battery Park, with its well-equipped playground and fresh river air, was easily walkable. Grania worked from home in her studio, so even if a nanny had to be employed, she’d only be a few seconds away from the baby if she was needed.

Grania had climbed into the big, empty bed later and sighed with irritation that she’d have to keep her plans and her excitement to herself for a while longer. Matt had been away for the past week, and wasn’t due home for another couple of days. It was not the kind of thing one could just announce over the phone. She’d finally fallen asleep in the early hours, imagining Matt’s proud gaze as she handed him his newborn child.

When he’d arrived home, Matt had been just as excited about the idea as she was. They’d made an immediate and very pleasurable start on putting their plan into action, both of them loving the fact they had their own secret joint project, which would bond and cement them, just as it had her own parents. It was the missing piece that would unite them once and for all into a homogenized, codependent unit. In essence, a family.

• • •

Grania lay in her narrow childhood bed, listening to the wind howling angrily around the solid stone walls of the farmhouse. She reached for a tissue and blew her nose, hard.

That had been a year ago. And the terrible truth was, their “joint project” had not united them. It had destroyed them.

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The Girl on the Cliff: A Novel 3.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 31 reviews.
SilversReviews More than 1 year ago
Dunworley Bay, West Cork, Ireland, London, parlor maids, orphans, a character with a sixth sense, castles, crashing waves, a family legacy, letters, and secrets....what else could you ask for? All this and more is wrapped up in THE GIRL ON THE CLIFF. This book takes you away to the magic of life in 1914 in castles, normal households, and into the life of a family that leaves a legacy and many secrets for current-day folks to discover and secrets that reveal the family's history and who Anna really was. The book begins with and continues at the beginning of different sections with thoughts and comments directed to "Dear Reader" from Aurora, the youngest member of the family, giving reflective insights into what will be coming up and her opinions on situations....very nice touch. You will find yourself in New York, Ireland, and London reliving the life of Aurora and Grania who are the basis of the current-day story and the story that is made up of their ancestry of Mary who was a parlor maid and Anna an orphan in a house where Mary is the only mother she really knew because her mother gave her away. As the book and secrets unfold you are taken back and forth learning the life of the characters in London, 1914, and beyond. The characters are very well developed, and you will put yourself into their lives and into each emotion they are experiencing as each character makes decisions or manipulates someone. You will feel their passion and relate to each character as the author describes in detail their connection to each other and their part in the family heritage. You will fall in love with Mary and Anna as they tell their story and feel the pain of Kathleen who doesn't want her daughter Grania to know the family's history but must tell her. You will enjoy the descriptions of the everyday life in Ireland, the landscapes, the views, and the houses. You will want to know what secret the family has that has affected all its descendants. Will the suitcase owned by Anna's mother tell all? Who will find it? Does anyone remember it is in the attic of Mary and Anna's home where Mary was a parlor maid? Or will Kathleen, Grania's mother and descendant of the Ryan family, know enough for everyone? Aurora is the tie to it all and the final key to the family's secrets. The theme of the book is my favorite and was difficult to put down. 5/5 This book was given to me free of charge by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed the novel. My mother was born in Ireland and spent several years in an orphanage before coming to Boston at age 11. It truly is amazing how our lives can seem to be so closely related to someone close to you, only to find out that you are related in some way to that person. I found that out on a visit to Ireland 10 years ago when, after visiting relatives, I found that I was related to a co-worker. Life truly works in mysterious ways!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Interesting plot twists, but narrator gets in the way of the story. I found the narrator interruptive and felt the story would be better served without her. Otherwise, I thought the book was interesting and certainly surprising. It kept my interest.
irishclaireKG More than 1 year ago
Bizarre. Bizarre is the only word I can really apply to this novel--other than just 'bad.' While I liked this author's 'Orchid House' this one is just...? The only reason I rate this two stars rather than one is for the West Irish setting, one of my favorite places in the world, but even that is a bit disappointing. While the author has some of the Irish dialect down, (as the bio says she was born in Ireland), specific details of that wild coast are pretty skimpy. The rest of the story is the problem. A main character who has no will of her own: she just grossly overreacts in stupid ways to trivial matters, acts without explanation (like showing up on her parent's doorstep after years away with no reason why), and just goes along with other's desires--when a virtual stranger asks her to take care of his kid and fly to his secret destination in the middle of the night w/out explanation she just says, 'sure.' Her former boyfriend is an esteemed psychologist yet can't tell he's being lied to and manipulated. WHO told this author that Americans speak this way?? 'How's it hangin?' is NOT the go-to greeting for lovers, parents, etc. Not every man calls a woman 'babe' incessantly. Then this is the creepy, weird child in all this. An 8 year old typically doesn't accept a parent's death with 'whatever.' She typically does not speak with the voice of an 18th century adult; she does not book airfares in the middle of the night, fly across the ocean, and navigate NYC on her own and the adults in NY don't just say, "wow." The interim chapters in this girl's voice are jarring and strange--and WHAT in the world is the ending about? No explanation what has really taken place, how or why. It is mind-numbingly stupid. Want to see a kid hop a plane with some degree of credibility? Rent "Sleepless in Seattle." This is just...ugh.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good story, but a little too complicated. There were too many instances of a character looking drawn and upset and almost saying what was wrong but deciding not to. That shouldn't happen three times in a row or the story is being artificially drawn out. And that is annoying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Check my and Lance's book. Tell me if I need to reply. The comments are all out of order. I cant tell.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
But seriously. I get to ride in Sean's convertible with /just/ him on Sunday after church :3333333333
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Romance novels about Ireland are my guilty pleasure, and while I don't expect a lot in terms of the writing, Lucinda Riley completely disappoints.  The characters are thin and inconsistent, and the dialogue is completely unbelievable.  There is about as much depth in this book as one would find in a middle-school play.
lee_s More than 1 year ago
I've read several of Riley's books and this one did not live up to the others. It dragged along, until I finally skimmed the book to confirm the ending. Pass on this one and try her others instead.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the story of Aurora and Grania. Two lost souls who find each other on the cliffs of Ireland. Nice beach book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
the story line was really good,but as a Jewish reader,there was a little too much Christian undertone. I will read her books again. She tell a good story
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Wish she had more books available. Wonderful author and fabulous story lines. Read all three and hated to stop reading any of them. Wonderful descriptions of the people, the countries and the settings. Hope she has another book ready for printing soon.
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Enjoyed this book very much. It was worth the wait.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really love both books that Lucinda Riley has written. She is an outstanding author. Her books have everything that I love in a story. YOU WON'T GO WRONG TO PURCHASE HER TWO BOOKS!