The Barn is a family home, but this family is challenged in so many ways. Erin and Heather Douglas as well as their brother Fraser have been left bereft by a death, but this does not account for all their problems. This is a sensitively written novel of loss, but also of rebuilding lives shaped by betrayal, motherhood and so much else. The contemporary feel of the references to activities undertaken by the women anchor this novel firmly in the present day, yet some of the themes have and will affect the lives of women through many decades in the past and to come. I was pleased to be asked to read this book as part of a blog tour.
Erin is a young woman who makes a startling discovery right at the start of the novel. Her new dilemma soon finds a tragic solution however, as she experiences the largely unexpected loss of her mother. Her decision to retreat to the north of England has had an impact on her career and romance; the lack of support by her siblings brings extra trauma at a time when she is sleepwalking through caring for the family dog Bracken and maintaining her mother’s Pilates classes. When a new chance of love enters her life, her recent experience makes her overly suspicious and means that she must make some tough decisions about what she truly wants from her life and the fulfilment of her mother’s dreams.
Heather is also finding life a struggle. Her outwardly successful life of children, work and husband is being threatened by her own demons, guilt and alcohol dependence. Her treatment of those nearest to her and the resulting guilt is impacting on her life in so many ways that she is losing focus, and even a retreat to the Barn is not providing answers, but putting additional pressure on an already shaky relationship. More than even Erin, she finds that she needs to stop and reassess what she is doing with her life, before she loses everything dear to her and her true ambitions in life.
Bradshaw has undoubtedly a confident way of putting the central points of life into a densely written novel in a positive way. Her cheeky references to television programmes and contemporary life show that she is a keen observer and able communicator of the things that matter; her research into medical, legal and similar matters is well integrated into the narrative. I appreciated the local references to the Newcastle area, which shows someone who looks beyond the usual in setting for a book largely aimed at women. The relative speed with which events succeed one another demonstrate well the complexity of modern life, and this is a book which maintains the reader’s involvement with the plot as well as the competently drawn characters. A mark of the quality of the writing is the fact that even the minor characters are convincing. An engaging read, this is far more than a lightweight romance as the experiences of the characters have a certain well honed reality. A novel which is well worth tracking down for its carefully balanced blend of romance, reality and hope, in which a beautifully described Barn is another character in a well populated book.
Yes, this is another review in a very busy week or so for books. Partly as a result of the time of year, there are so many good books around at the moment. I am busy mentally compiling a list of my books of the year, perhaps offering ideas for a stocking up of good reads for the Christmas and holiday period. If you could name one book that you have discovered this year, what would it be ? (It doesn’t have to be a new book; maybe you have had a reprint rediscovery!)