The Courtyard (by Marcia Willett)

I discovered Marcia Willett about ten years ago, with a chance purchase from a charity shop. Since then I've collected all her books, either second-hand, or as presents, and decided recently that it was time to start re-reading.

I last read 'The Courtyard' eight years ago, and had entirely forgotten it. It opens with a chance meeting in a tea-shop. Gussie, and elderly and impoverished woman, has just bought a dress for a wedding - second-hand, but attractive - and despite her natural reserve, is longing to tell someone about it. Nell, another very private person, happens to be sitting there, and somehow the two of them click.

An unlikely friendship is formed, with - at first - most of the giving on Nell's side. Nell is married to John, who used to be in the navy, but is currently working as an estate agent. Unfortunately due to the recession, things are not going to well. Moreoever, John feels guilty, refuses to talk about his problems with Nell, and takes it out on her when she tries, gently, to question him. They have a son called Jack, and my only mild irritation with the book was the assumption that he was getting the best education by going to an expensive boarding school, despite being only eight.

The wedding Gussie attends is that of her cousin Henry and his new bride Gillian. Henry is a likeable man, very tied up with the estate he owns, and keen on a courtyard development of cottages which he is gradually building. Gillian, however, is shallow, materialistic, and selfish. She thinks she can twist Henry around her little finger,a and is surprised to find him rather stubborn on some points.

The story develops over a couple of years, as Courtyard cottages are built, and people gradually move in. One of them is a minor character from some of Marcia Willett's previous books, with several rather shadowy connections, also people in other novels. This would probably be a bit confusing to anyone who hadn't read the other books, as there's quite a large cast in this novel; however, having recently re-read a couple of the earlier books, I quite appreciated a chance to catch up with some names I remembered.

There are some shocks in this book, most of which I had totally forgotten, and some delightful moments that made me smile. The theme is friendship, of giving and receiving, and family loyalty. There's also a rather strong hint to avoid getting involved in any shady deals, and to consult solicitors before signing any documents!

All in all, I enjoyed it although it took me a few chapters to get into the story. A pleasant light read, and it's certainly not necessary to have read anything else by this author. Recommended.

Not always in print, although there have been a few different editions, but it's a book that's widely available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 9th September 2008

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You do a great job reviewing this book Sue. I think I read only one Willett book but I will definitely check this one out.