A Year in the Chateau by Sarah Long – Nine friends take on a dream


Nine people, not so young, with a dream . This is a book of mature romance, but not of the usual kind. Nine people, all early retired or at least looking for a new start after full time work, decide that they want to spend more time with their friends than living separate lives as couples in their pleasant but boring houses. They have all got reasons why they find their current lifestyle unsatisfactory; boredom, frustration, lack of appreciation. Two couples have adult children who they find overwhelming, one couple feel unappreciated in their academic work. One man has divorced his first wife in favour of a much younger woman. The ninth member of the group is a gay interior designer who has just been left by a long term partner. They decide to put their resources together to buy a large house in the countryside and live together with separate apartments. It is only when they cannot find a suitable house in Britain that they decide to look in France, and find  the chateau of their dreams. 


This is a funny, well handled book that deals intelligently with the issues of older people who are looking for a second start in life. Although there are nine characters they are all individual, well developed people. The settings, whether the original houses or the chateau of the title, are beautifully realised, and consistently described  in a very tempting way even when France is not well known. I was really pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this life affirming book.


This book begins with one couple, Nicola and Dominic, realising that early retirement has limited attractions and frustration with an office job is painful. They realise that a “gap year” has its drawbacks for older people used to comfortable homes. They ponder on a dream of “communal living” in a building large enough to include private apartments. On their list of possible sharers are Beth and Simon, the latter having given up his job to write a novel, and already driving his wife to despair. Doug and Mary are likely contenders, as their academic interests can be followed in any location. Will and his young wife, Fizz, are soon added to the list, with Leo as the only but much loved singleton. When their joint search in Britain proves fruitless, they discover a chateau in France which seems ideal. 


When they arrive they soon discover that like any form of home ownership, there are maintenance issues to consider before there is a disaster. Fortunately their combined skills are soon put to good use, including financial wizardry, interior design, cooking meals and gardening to produce vegetables. Generally the locals are welcoming, even if the original owner of the chateau visits to take away items. This happy existence is sometimes shaded, but friendship is always strong.


This is a lovely book to escape into, as Long handles her large cast well, while also showing how it takes an entire team to begin and maintain a dream. It is a well written story of love and solidarity in later life, and a true tribute to friends being supportive and generally positive. I recommend it to many people who enjoy a contemporary read with life affirming themes.