Quentin and Lottie Bredin, like many modern couples, can’t afford to divorce. Having lost their jobs in the recession, they can’t afford to go on living in London; instead, they must downsize and move their three children to a house in a remote part of Devon. Arrogant and adulterous, Quentin can’t understand why Lottie is so angry; devastated and humiliated, Lottie feels herself to have been intolerably wounded.
Mud, mice and quarrels are one thing – but why is their rent so low? What is the mystery surrounding their unappealing new home? The beauty of the landscape is ravishing, yet it conceals a dark side involving poverty, revenge, abuse and violence which will rise up to threaten them.
Sally Verity, happily married but unhappily childless knows a different side to country life, as both a Health Visitor and a sheep farmer’s wife; and when Lottie’s innocent teenage son Xan gets a zero-hours contract at a local pie factory, he sees yet another. At the end of their year, the lives of all will be changed for ever.
A suspenseful black comedy, this is a rich, compassionate and enthralling novel in its depiction of the English countryside, and the potentially lethal interplay between money and marriage.
At the heart of this book is a really, really great story. The situation that Lottie and Quentin find themselves in is symbolic of the times we live in and the realities of the messed-up housing market – Lottie and Quentin are privileged, yes, and spoilt in some regards, but they are property rich and cash poor, and when their marriage breaks down and they find themselves out of work, they can’t afford to live in London anymore. They rent out their house and, with their twins and Lottie’s son Xan, they move to a rented cottage in Devon. But there is a reason the rent on their cottage is so cheap, and a mystery about the former occupant that leads them into danger.
Their life in Devon provides an opportunity to explode the myth of the false idyll of country life. It’s hard work, and it’s cold and damp and the shops are too far away. The local economy is based on zero hour contracts (as so much of the work in this country now is) and most of the time life seems fairly miserable. But Lottie slowly finds herself relaxing and enjoying her new life, away from the social hothouse of the capital.
Lottie has the potential to be a warm and sympathetic main character, but she is little too perfect to feel truly real. Quentin does behave badly, and he deserves her anger, but she surely must have some faults of her own? Xan is lovely, a real strength of the narrative, and twins Stella and Rosie are really well-written, as are Quentin’s parents. Quentin, who I should have hatted, I actually warmed to, although he does verge slightly on the stereotypical.
There is a strong cast of supporting characters, but again I did find some of them too perfect – health visitor Sally , for example. And I couldn’t quite believe in the denouement at the end.
I also found the use of present tense quite off-putting, especially as there were a few times when the tenses did seem all over the place.
That said, I really did enjoy reading this, which is, I suppose, all that really matters. It’s a great book to curl up with and sink into – and despite the fact that some of it seemed hard to believe, I can’t fault it for sheer enjoyment. I became involved in the characters’ lives despite myself and it was a book that I looked forward to picking up at the end of each day. So while it isn’t a perfect book, it is a very good one indeed, and I will definitely read more of the author’s work.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy.