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For some months, Katie's mother has woken screaming from a recurring nightmare. Katie becomes convinced the dream is a buried childhood memory, and that her mother needs to remember to overcome it. She finds out where her mother grew up and persuades her to go back, ostensibly for a holiday, in reality for Katie to track down her estranged grandfather. The seaside town is out-of-season, bleak, beset by storms and high spring tides, and the subject of a legend that the beach and waters are haunted by the crying of a child and the howling of a grief-stricken man.
What emerges are the events of a terrible accident fifty years before, when a cliff fell into the sea, taking cottages and their inhabitants with it. The failure to rescue a small child has haunted Katie's family ever since - an incident depicted in photographs in the museum - the child and a lifeboatman vainly reaching out as a wave sweeps her away. As real and supernatural events build to a stormy climax, Katie uncovers that her mother was the small child used in a filmed re-enactment of the tragedy, terrified at being forced by her father to play the part of the drowning child again and again and again. An uncompromising story of a young child's abuse through the greed and insensitivity of adults, and of the destructive power of guilt.