31/03/2008

A Village Affair (by Joanna Trollope)

I have somewhat mixed feelings about Joanna Trollope's novels. I've enjoyed some very much, and found others less interesting. Still, they're all well-written, and since I started reading her books about ten years ago, I'm now slowly re-reading some of them.

My memory of 'A Village Affair', which I first read in about 1998, was that it was really a bit sordid. So I wasn't sure I wanted to re-read it at all. However I thought it only fair to give it another trial - ten years ago I hadn't read nearly so much modern fiction, after all.

I'm glad I did.

'A Village Affair' is the story of Alice, who's rather a bohemian artist, who hasn't felt like painting for quite some time. She dresses in floaty shawls and skirts, and wears a very long plait down her back. She has three interesting children - the bossy seven-year-old Natasha, the clingy four-year-old James, and the utterly delightful baby Charlie. She also has a rather dull husband, Martin, but gets along extremely well with his parents, Cecily and Richard.

As the novel opens, Alice and her family are about to move into the Grey House, a lovely old house with its own orchard, in a small village. She is convinced that it will be the place where her artistic fervour will reawaken. At least, she was right up until the story begins, when she suddenly gets terribly cold feet about it all.

Alice is thrown right into the midst of village life, as she meets several of her new neighbours. She's persuaded into working in the village shop, and helping with the church flowers. She's also invited to a formal dinner party...

It's the story of Alice re-discovering her passion for art, and some other passions which she didn't know existed. It's hard to say more without giving away the main focus of the plot, which rather shocked me when I first read it; it's the one thing I remembered from it on re-reading.

However I was wrong in my judgement. It's not at all sordid. A difficult and controversial subject is given sensitive treatment. Alice's dilemmas as she has to make some very difficult choices seem believable and well thought out.

I did get a bit muddled about some of the minor characters involved, but the main ones were all three-dimensional and memorable, albeit slightly caricatured. The story works well at a good pace, and the ending is satisfactory and hopeful, if not a rosy happy-ever-after.

All in all, I'd recommend it to anyone who likes light fiction with controversial issues involved. It's not quite as dramatic as some of Libby Purves' novels that cover difficult subjects, but if you're easily shocked, you might do best to avoid it. I'm glad to see it's still in print in both the UK and USA.

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