Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer by Molly Clavering – a gentle and funny republished 1953 novel from Furrowed Middlebrow /Dean Street Press

Mrs. Lorimer's Quiet Summer (Paperback)
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Mrs. Lorimer’s Quiet Summer by Molly Clavering

It is always a joy to discover a new author who wrote successfully in the middle of the twentieth century, and Molly Clavering’s work is a joy in its own right. No huge dramatic events, problems are family crisis, and there is an underlying sense of humour throughout. Focusing on the lives of two writers, the successful Lucy Lorimer and the less successful in terms of sales, Grace or Gray Douglas, possibly partly autobiographical, this is the story of the harassed Lucy as she deals with her awkward but loving husband, Colonel Jack, and her four adult children. It is these offspring that mean that Lucy’s summer is anything but quiet, as she deals with their tantrums, their unique relationships and their problems. In all of these challenges Gray is a source of support, while having her own thoughts about life in the village.

The setting is almost another character; a village which has parties and gatherings culminating in the yearly show and beautiful accessible countryside which offers walks and picnic sites for when home life gets a little too trying. With an echo of Angela Thirkell, there is the difficult daughter, the distracted daughter in law and the lovelorn son to deal with, against the background of local characters who are all dealing with the after effects of a war which shook everything up even though the worse of the bombing was far away. This 1953 novel is funny, endearing and well worth the republishing by the brilliant Dean Street Press in its Furrowed Middlebrow series which goes from strength to strength. I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it.

The book opens with Lucy being annoyed to hear from Nan, housekeeper and much more, that a local house Harperslea has been sold. She is frustrated because her ever expanding family including grandchildren is not easy to fit into their existing house, especially with their attendant nannies. For this is an age of genteel respectability, where Mary, the much loved wife of eldest son Thomas, gives of an air of distraction in which a cook cannot be kept who will provide wholesome and sufficient meals. Thomas is a successful doctor and Mary suffers from the loss of the excitement of her War service transporting planes for the RAF. When they all turn up at the same time for their summer get together, it is fortunate that Gray offers to take Mary and Thomas, as well as Guy, navel officer, for a few nights, as the latter is suffering the worst part of a romantic disappointment. Thinking of her offspring, Lucy confides that “Sometimes I wish children didn’t have to grow up. One can do quite a lot for them while they are children, but now – It’s so hard to have to sit back and watch them hurting themselves”. Not that this is a miserable book; Lucy is a loving mother whose children are finding life tricky. Her husband is a lovely man who does not understand other people at all times, muttering dire imprecations about noisy children and their mess while fussing over his elderly and loyal dog. When a new character is introduced into the circle with an unfortunate name and a memorable father, more confusion is introduced. A crisis with the easiest of the children makes at least one character reassess his true feelings, and the day of the Village Show shows everyone in a different light.

This is a truly delightful book which introduces characters coping and adjusting to new ways. Gray is a character who observes, comments and sometimes suggests a way through. The writing is light but offers insight into the true lives of those who have enough money and leisure to fulfil their needs, and are genuinely linked by family and friendship in a positive way. A cheerful book, reading about a countryside summer in a detailed but never tedious way is a real treat. I would be delighted to read more of Clavering’s books as she provides a real boost to any reader who enjoys a gentle insight into family and village life in the sunlit 1950s.

Death Goes On Skis by Nancy Spain – a reprinted 1949 novel of humour, murder and its time

Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain, Sandi Toksvig | Waterstones

Death Goes On Skis by Nancy Spain

A republished gem in the Virago Modern Classics series, Death Goes on Skis, is a 1949 farce or murder mystery set in a ski resort in a mysterious European country. There is a quite a group of British based tourists who find themselves in the Water Station Hotel, owned by the misguided M Lapatronne with Trudi and Nelli as chambermaids. The British party include the family of Barny Flaherte, perfume manufacturer, which is extended to include two of his cousins, his mistress Fanny Mayes and her hapless husband, and the governess of his two children, Miss Rosie Leamington. Natasha, a retired Russian ballet dancer, her husband and step daughter are also in residence, with the remarkable Miriam Birdseye and her two associates. When a suspicious death occurs, more than one of the guests decide that it needs investigating, despite the official line.

As Sandi Toksvig points out in her informative Introduction, the humour in this novel works on various levels, with in jokes for those who are aware of the context in which it originally appeared, as well as the somewhat obvious humour of murder mystery set in a confined community. Some of the former humour could be now seen as dubious in the twenty first century, but is no more controversial than many authors’ work produced at the time. Indeed, Spain’s somewhat outrageous personality adds a knowing tone to a book which was very self aware even in its day. As a slice of social history it is revealing, as a postwar read it is lively and funny, and as a simple historical murder mystery with a comic theme it is just enjoyable. I found it an entertaining read and recommend it as such.

I was glad to find a list of characters in the front of this book, as when the story begins to unfold it is useful unless you have previous knowledge of Spain’s novels, where some of the characters are featured in other investigations, as they refer to themselves throughout. Book One “The Journey”, sets up the characters as they travel to the ski resort. Kathleen, a young woman, is described with her hair in a “black page-boy bob (which) flew behind her in elf locks. The effect was hysterical”. Her sister, Toddy, is described as “a tough, gentlemanly young woman…with a polished Eton crop”. Spain’s flair for description flows throughout the novel, as Pamela is later described “she seemed detached, intelligent and amiable”, whereas a room is described as “turbulent with the effects of someone who had dressed in a hurry for dancing without the help of a lady’s maid”. She uses the dialogue to further story and reveal much about the character of the speaker; “It is not money that I mind people stinking of” said Natasha, and moved gently away.”

It is difficult to summarise what exactly this makes this book so memorable; the murder mystery among a small group of potential suspects, romance and attraction among the strangest people, two pairs of people: Roger and Morris who are devoted to Miriam, two appalling little girls who nobody finds likeable. The setting, of a ski resort which allows some characters to show off their skills, others to discover a talent, and the rest to shun skiing with determination. The currency limitation for the British abroad is an issue for some, while others rise above it, and yet others will bet on anything. Overall, this is a book for those interested in women’s writing of the first half of the twentieth century, those who have an interest in murder mysteries written with little reverence for the rules, but most of all for those who enjoy an entertaining read. I will be reading more Nancy Spain books soon!

Oxford Blues by Andy Griffee -Revealing the cover of a book to come in July!

At last – the third book in the entertaining series of canal boat life, murder mystery and a singular journalist! Andy Griffee is responsible for “Canal Pushers” and “River Rats” – featuring the somewhat hapless but always interesting journalist Jack Johnson and the unpredictable Nina Wilde, life on a canal boat over winter is always challenging. It gets more worrying when a body is found in the canal at Oxford, especially when it turns out to be an undergraduate known to Nina’s niece Anna. What is guaranteed is that Jack will get involved – though not in a straightforward way…

Tension by E.M. Delafield – an 1920 novel of tensions in a small community reprinted in the British Library Women Writers series

Tension by E.M. Delafield

Tension by E. M Delafield

This is a novel from 1920, recently reprinted in the excellent British Library Women Writers series. Its simple title, Tension,  reflects the atmosphere of the book which Delafield creates with a deftness which befits the author of the gently funny “The Diary of a Provincial Lady”, though much of the action and relationships in this novel are far more tense than amusing. It contains some marvelous characters including Lady Edna Rossiter, whose demeanor and behaviour reminded me of certain other characters for Delafield’s novels, as she is firmly of the opinion that she is a blessing to other people. Her husband, Sir Julian Rossiter, has more understanding of the people who his wife is negatively affecting, but chooses not to intervene. It is not only adults that Delafield populates her novel with; there are some unappealing children who rejoice in the names of Ruthie and Peekaboo (or Ambrose). The story revolves around an adult education college that most of the characters are associated with; the countryside and the seashore are other settings in which Delafield sets her story. This is a book of polite attack, where one character is so certain of her authority and moral correctness that she is able to ride roughshod over other people, justifying it by calling it “giving” and seeing her role as helping others in the way they should go. Her mantra of “Is it kind – is it wise -is it true?” being almost opposite to what she actually says.

The timing of the book is significant, just following the First World War when the numbers of women exceeded men following the losses of battle. Therefore there are characters like Miss Marchrose whose decisions about marriage can fix them in a situation for many years, when being married confers a certain status even if it is without love or even affection. The dialogue is so vivid that it really evokes strong emotions in the reader. I have enjoyed many of the books in this series, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this novel.  

The book begins with a morning in the Rossiter household, when Julian tells his wife about a new candidate to be Lady Superintendent at the college of which he is a senior director. Two things make this an unfortunate announcement; firstly because Edna assumes a proprietary interest in the staff of the college despite their reservations about her interference. Secondly, Edna’s acute antenna soon picks out that the name of the young woman reminds her of an unfortunate event in her family when Miss Pauline Marchrose was accused of abandoning a rather needy young man. This is the essential strength of the novel. No matter what the facts of the case, from that moment Edna is on a mission to discover if the young woman presents a challenge to the status quo. She claims to have concerns about Mark Easter, father of the challenging children and effectively single parent. As other characters become involved, tensions between the oblivious Edna and the hapless victims of her oppressive oversight is carefully drawn, and a certain black humour emerges. 

This is a novel which underplays the drama but is excellent in the detail which conveys the personalities involved. It is the sort of book which makes the reader react strongly with visualising the effects of what is said, the destructive nature of pointed conversation and misogyny or at least the label of gender mistrust. I found it an enthralling and powerful book and the contrast between the characters to be brilliantly achieved. It is a book of its time, yet accurately conveys the way gossip and assumptions can be destructive in any context. It has much to say on the position of women early in the twentieth century, the nature of marriage, and is altogether an intense and powerful read from a skilled writer.      

Three Weddings and a Proposal by Sheila O’Flanagan – a woman must consider her options in contemporary Dublin

Three Weddings and a Proposal by Sheila O’Flanagan 

Delphine’s story is at the heart of this contemporary novel which deals with a woman’s choices. On one level she is a successful woman, an Executive assistant to Conrad Morgan, a multimillionaire businessman. Her relationship with her boss is one of devotion “I never want him to be disappointed. He depends on me to deliver”. He is the head of an investment firm, moving and growing other people’s money and he is remarkably successful. Delphine is first seen buying a bracelet for his young and beautiful girlfriend Bianca, a fabulous thirtieth birthday present with beauty and history. On the other hand, Delphi as she is known to her extensive family, has no permanent boyfriend, or husband, an empty if wonderful house, a career which takes her on amazing trips around the world. She has female friends, but it soon emerges that she cannot find a plus one for her brother’s wedding. This book looks at, through Delphine’s eyes, how women think of their work, their careers and relationships. Her voice is of a woman who wonders if she has it all, indeed, whether she wants everything. Lively, funny and realistic, this is a story of  a woman whose family has expectations of marriage as the route to happiness, who has business acumen if not ambition, and has to consider in a relatively short time her options. I really enjoyed it and found it an enthralling read. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this contemporary novel. 

The book opens as Delphine is trying to buy a bracelet for some £100,000 while coping with the demands of her brother to let him know the name of her plus one for his wedding. She comes from a large family in Dublin, where it is important to live close to each other in all senses. Delphine’s singleness is a cause for concern for her family, and the nature of her relationship with her demanding boss is perhaps misunderstood. A law graduate, her successful career has been built on arranging life for Conrad, making sure he is at all his meetings well prepared, his business and charitable interests well organised. Although not earning money directly for the company, she eases the way for Conrad to earn fantastic amounts for investors and himself. She likes his wife Martha, the ultimate executive’s wife, making a home for him and the children and entertaining contacts suitably. More recently Conrad has found a much younger girlfriend, and while Delphine has met her and quite enjoys her company, she knows that Conrad’s lifestyle has changed. An unpredicted event means that Delphine must consider everything, her relationships with past boyfriends, her family’s expectations for her. She realises that men’s and women’s attitudes to their careers are so different  that it can be difficult to understand where they overlap. She also realises several things about herself, if only how she reacts to pressures that she could have never foreseen.

This book has much to say about women’s lives in a post – pandemic world. It speaks of their fear of missing out compared with their career progress, the pressure from well meaning family and friends to “settle”, and the real need to find their own way. It shows real insight, a powerful view of women’s lives through fiction, a strong voice in the face of discrimination against women in the workplace despite their progress towards equality. It is entertaining and meaningful, a real dose of reality amongst the humour and personal crisis. The writing takes the reader along, cleverly posing and answering questions, and I recommend it as a vividly written novel of a woman’s life and choices. 

Love and Miss Harris by Peter Maughan – the Company of Fools theatre group takes to the road

Love and Miss Harris by Peter Maughan 

A bus, a Rolls Royce and a huge heap of playbills go ahead of a troupe of actors as they travel across the south of post war England in this lively tale of people and a play. Peter Maughan has constructed a “Company of Fools” in the first of a series of books with great promise. This book features the memorable Titus Llewellyn-Gwynne as he tries to put a play on, the splendidly named “Love and Miss Harris”, aided and abetted by a cast including Jack, a war veteran who has a talent for trouble. This is a terrific ensemble piece set in a world of seedy boarding houses, damaged theatres and dodgy deals, of faded stars and last hopes. There is a threat of more than poor audiences running through the book, as a self appointed gangster has taken offence at Jack and is using all his resources to track him down with his incompetent employees. This lively tale of fantastic characters all pulling together to ensure that the show must go on is a really entertaining and engaging novel, and I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review it. 

The book begins with Titus, as usual dressed in a selection of theatrical wardrobe clothes including a useful sword stick, discovers that Reuben ‘Books’ Kramer’s potential backing for a new show is not forthcoming. Jack Savage, actor with bad memories of hand to hand fighting in France, usefully thumps Reuben and thereby starts his vendetta. While Titus is grateful, the removal of the funding leaves his dreams, and that of his associate Dolly without any hope of putting on a play. Out of a London fog appears George, otherwise known as Lady Devonaire, whose life’s ambition is to put on the play she has written, “Love and Miss Harris” with enough money to invest. She is disappointed to hear that Titus’ theatre where he lives is not in a state to put on a play. However, he has an idea, with a small cast and a minimum of production staff they could tour the small towns of the south of England. Jack Savage is cast as one of the male leads, along with a young actress called Lizzie. An ex-film star who has retired owing to an alcohol problem is also recruited to give a real star quality, and George insists on joining the party with her large dog Gus. Her aristocratic friend provides some support, and the group leaves London in George’s Rolls Royce and a repurposed double decker bus. Playing in small places with crooked managers and variable accommodation, it is quite an adventure, especially with Jack’s wandering eye and undoubted attractions. Meanwhile in London Reuben is searching for Jack, while a Chinese issue is also brewing.

There are some lovely period details in this book, as British towns and people recover from the effects of the War, as well as the theatrical problems that afflict the running of the play as it meets with success and challenges. Events in London centring around Reuben’s desire for revenge become increasingly surreal, and involve a young woman who has cause to reconsider her options. I really enjoyed this book with its fascinating characters and carefully described settings, its postwar atmosphere and gentle humour. It is using some established situations to set this book firmly in its era, and it is always lively and well paced. I recommend this book as a jolly read and a great start  to a new series.

Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes – A 1942 novel of waiting for war reprinted in the Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series

Sword of Bone by Anthony Rhodes

This is a novel of the fictionalised memories of a man sent to France and Belgium in the very early days of the Second World War. Originally published in 1942, the details of Rhodes’ memories had to be changed in some respects because the War was continuing and names had to be concealed. Written within a couple of years of events, without the benefit of hindsight of how the war would proceed let alone finish, this is a vivid picture of a young officer’s experiences on the eve of a new type of warfare. Now reprinted in the excellent Imperial War Museum Wartime Classics series with an informative Introduction by Alan Jeffreys, this novel has a “quality which differentiates literature from reporting” according to the author Elizabeth Bowen. Most of the book is taken up with an account of the months before the conflict actually began, and covers Rhodes’ activities in finding sleeping quarters for the men of his division in various places, then obtaining necessary supplies for the work that the engineers had to do. It is therefore filled with memorable characters who are variously concerned with the potential hostilities or are confident that the Germans will not attack. When it becomes obvious that the invasion of France is imminent, it is not revealing too much to say that the tempo of the book changes. The champagne which had been freely consumed, the convivial evenings spent with the locals over fine food and the promises of peace give way to sudden departures and roads filled with refugees. It becomes matter of fact as the path is taken to Dunkirk, and the desperation of those awaiting rescue.

This is a book of men and very few women who are preparing for War with clear memories of the trenches and losses of the all too recent “Great War”. Rhodes himself admits that some of his alcohol consumption is fuelled by the fear that he too will be sucked into the agonising battles and horrific trenches that had filled France within living memory. This book is a powerful testimony of the sort of life lived during the “Bore” or “Phoney” War before the Dunkirk evacuation. It was a time of waiting, preparation and confusion when it was still desperately hoped that there would not be a repeat of the fighting that had killed and injured so many in France. It is far from a book of sophisticated battle stories and military memoirs; instead it presents a series of characters who are trying to carry on with the shadow of war over them. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fine book.    

This book begins with the realisation that war is really on the way in September 1939. Entering the army as an officer, there is only a relatively brief time before Rhodes is sent to France in charge of the advance party, together with sealed maps and a trail of clues that will lead to the towns and villages where he must find places for the officers and men to sleep. He records the problems of getting on with those he has to work and live, the other officers and their idiosyncrasies. He learns about the French attitudes to soldiers taking space in their houses, he describes how businessmen hope there will be quick money to be made from the British Army who they believe to be backed up by the Bank of England. He meets mainly well intentioned people who are resigned to strangers in their midst, and the narrative is a lively account of the people he meets and the sometimes exasperating situations he finds himself in. When the Germans sweep through several European countries and begin to enter France, after bombing many places that they regard as legitimate targets, it becomes obvious that most of the defensive preparations that Rhodes and the British forces have made have been ineffective. The battle to survive is now begun, and Dunkirk is the only option. 

This is an incredibly readable book which maintains a lively pace throughout. It is full of the immediacy of a strange almost pre war atmosphere, yet the transition to real danger is well handled. I recommend this book to those who enjoy reading first hand accounts of life during this period, written and published in the heat of a new style of conflict by a skilled and experienced author.  

The Other Times of Caroline Tangent by Ivan D Wainewright – a book of music, time travel and people’s lives.

The Other Times of Caroline Tangent by Ivan D Wainewright

A list of music concerts that a fan would have loved to attend. Early Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix and others.  Memorable festivals – Knebworth, Glastonbury, significant moments in music history. For those committed to following popular music in the second half of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first could come up with an impressive list of concerts that would have been beyond exciting to experience at first hand. Jon and Caroline come up with such a list, but instead of just wishing, Jon has invented a time machine that enables them to temporarily leave suburban life for the site of musical events that made history. It is an incredible idea, and makes this almost seem like a fantasy novel, but in fact it is a contemporary novel that feels completely reasonable. Firstly, Caroline in particular is seen in the context of friends and life as an artist which seems everyday. She has memories with Jon of events which changed their lives and are especially realistic. Secondly, there is much about the care they must take not to allow anyone to know what they are doing , even those who are similarly obsessed with music. Thirdly, there is what they call the butterfly effect, of the risk of a seemingly small action they commit while in the past has a massive effect on the future to come. 

Despite the fantastic idea at the centre of this novel, it really emerges as a novel of people in relationships in 2021 rather than science fiction. It also shows a deep understanding and affection for the great popular music events of the past which made me wonder which concerts I would love to witness. The research into the simple logistics of attending a concert in a different time and place is impressive, including the problems of obtaining the physical money needed as well as the problems of finding a place to appear and disappear near enough to the venue in the correct clothing. This is such a well thought out and researched book which flows beautifully around the people and events that I really enjoyed. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this unusual book. 

The book opens with a glimpse into Caroline and Jon in Paris, October 1935.They are revelling in the music, the musicians that they have only heard of but now can see and hear, and the wine that would have been so expensive except that they are paying 1930s prices with resources from 2021. They are fully in the place and time, and yet know they can return into their own lives when they wish, only having been away from where they are expected to be for a matter of moments.  The reader encounters a group of close friends that surround Caroline and Jon, each with their own lives and concerns. Caroline is especially close to Bee, while Andrew is another music fan, but can get quite aggressive with Jon’s enthusiasm for vinyl records. They have a history of partnership but also some difficult confrontations. The next few months are significant ones for Caroline and Jon; they have decisions to make not only limited to which concert to secretly attend.

This is a really good read which has real suspense as well as posing some fascinating questions to readers. It is a well written and extremely cleverly plotted novel which I read avidly in order to discover what would happen next. It combines a real sense of atmosphere for the various times and places involved, as well as characters who maintain their roles throughout the narrative. The elements of time travel, music events and people’s lives and choices come together to make an irresistible read which is unusual and fascinating.  

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley – A Romantic Novelist in search of inspiration?

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley | Waterstones

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley 

Kara is stuck. A successful romance novelist, her deadline is getting nearer and she has no inspiration. This is a book which successfully combines a story of a tricky contemporary romantic encounter with extracts from an historical novel under construction, the success of which reflects the progress of Kara’s relationship. This is a book about a writer’s muse, about how the inspiration for writing comes, and the process of writing drafts.It is also amusing, featuring a dog called Duke and characters with a snappy turn for dialogue. For a book of romantic fiction the characters have a certain depth as they cope with memories of the past as well as hopes for the future. A major part of the book is centred around a wedding, so there is a certain romantic theme whatever the main characters choose to do. Kara is a young woman who has fond memories of Ryan, but also some guilt issues. Her immediate family, her mother and sister, have their own agendas, and she has some close female friends who are both challenging and supportive. I enjoyed the dialogue in this book which made it a lively and often funny read, which is a good thing when so much fiction is often a bit miserable. I was very pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this good hearted book. 

We first see Kara in a lift announcing that she is maid of honour at the forthcoming wedding while trying to cope with a “Great-Dane-sized gift basket” which is “on the cusp of breaking both my arms and my spirit”. This is New York, and Cristina is hosting a pre wedding party.This is a book in which no one is worried about money, despite the hints that Kara is rather dependent on the advance on the book which she is now fighting to complete and deliver. Suddenly she encounters a man she never really expected to see again, Ryan, who was the love of her college years, who surprisingly turns out to be one of the grooms childhood friends and thus a significant part of the wedding group. Despite her best intentions to be indifferent to the man who has affected every relationship since, almost against her will she is intrigued and attracted to him over again. The immediate effect is that she returns to her apartment and dashes off a chunk of her novel. Could contact with her old love be the inspiration she is looking for, even if he professes to be anything but a fan of romantic novels. 

The book follows the progress of Kara as she spends some more time with Ryan, and she accordingly considers her options in the light of his past misbehaviour. Some of the characters she encounters are truly brilliant, and overall pretty realistic. What really sets this book apart is the extracts from Kara’s historic novel, featuring a strong minded heroine and a hero with a hint of Mr Darcy about him. This is a successful addition to the book and really lifted it for me. Altogether this is an enjoyable book, a great escape from gritty realism, and has some funny dialogue.  

The Draftsman by Laurel Lindstrom – a man who finds a house and much more in a perceptive novel

The Draftsman by Laurel Lindstrom

This is a book about Martin, a single-minded genius in some ways, but with only the faintest glimmerings of understanding of other people’s and indeed his own life. It is also the story of the ghost of a house, Shadowhurst Hall, that was demolished years before in the physical sense, but comes to represent a past that Martin wants to understand. The characterless  house in the grounds now standing in the grounds is only of interest to Martin initially because it reflects his peculiar lifestyle; six bedrooms for him to have a different bed every night, grounds that he has stocked with sheep to improve the view. This is a subtle novel of a mind which is damaged and a way of seeing that brings wealth but little understanding what to do with it. The other characters in the book, including his capable sister, his vain but thoughtful friend Joshua and the stalwart Bill are remarkable for their forbearance and their choices in regard to a man who only sees the world to calculate it, seeing the lines and spaces, the shapes of the world. Damaged, lacking understanding and therefore vulnerable, Martin is a man who has sustained much, but brings unique perspective to a half-remembered house which dominated the past and may hold secrets for the present and future. I found this a fascinating novel and was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review a book which offers such dreamlike insights.

The book opens with Martin arriving in the house, his house, bought six months before as an investment but now readied for his arrival by his sister Alison. They both hope that it marks a new beginning “He wanted to change, he had to change, had to move on, but he wasn’t sure why or to what.” He has driven to the house in a brand new, expensive car, the first time he had driven since passing his test, worried by its power, unaware that it was so indicative of a wealth he had little clue how to enjoy. Alison has worked hard to furnish and equip the house to his specification, even providing cans of tuna and sorting out a gardener/handyman and a cleaner. She is aware of his apartment in London, a huge single room despoiled by food, cigarette ends and the detritus of a man who simply left things to fall to the ground, seemingly unaware of the squalor around him. It transpires that their shared childhood was a strange one of obedience to a mother who may have been abusive, of a father proud of his son but totally baffled about his choices. Martin becomes a young man of rigid habits, compulsively calculating the world around him. He discovers in the house and grounds a challenge, the swans that fascinate him but represent the curves that he cannot control, a glimpse of a life that he cannot quantify, a past that he needs to find out more about.

This is not an easy book to describe, but it has a lyrical quality that transcends the need for a complex plot. It is a work of real insight and subtly marks a change in a life that was rigid and vaguely shameful, a collection of people who genuinely want the best for Martin, whose conspiracy is to help him, and in the process learn a little more about themselves. It is about a house of memories and more. I recommend it as an unusual but satisfying read which raises many questions.