Hattie's Mill (by Marcia Willett)

I've been enjoying the novels by Marcia Willett for over ten years, now. I came across one by accident in a charity shop, and was so impressed that I've gradually been collecting them all. And this year, I've begun re-reading them.

I first read 'Hattie's Mill' seven years ago. I don't really remember it at all, but apparently I found it a bit slow-moving. This time, however, I very much enjoyed it. Yes, it's not the most exciting fast-paced novel, but that meant I could read for half an hour or so in the evening over a week or so, without feeling that I couldn't put it down.

The story is about Hattie, an independent middle-aged woman who decides to buy an old mill, which has two attached cottages. She renovates them all, and then lets out the cottages to various people.

The story is about the growing community that develops, with a number of different sub-plots related to each of them. There's Miggy, for instance, who falls in love with Toby, a boatyard worker. Both are in difficult, sometimes painful marriages, and the author sensitively explores their burdens of the past, and the difficulties and baggage that can come with new relationships.

Miggy's daughter Daisy, who is ten at the start of the book, and sixteen by the end, is a delightful, imaginative girl who loves to sail. Georgia, Toby's daughter, is sixteen at the start of the book, and very resentful of her father's new wife. But she matures, and develops into a likeable young woman, partly due to the gentle influence of Miggy.

Then there's Joss, who plans to travel on his yacht once he's finished all the repairs that need to be done, but then he gets strongly attracted to someone else who moves into the little community.... and some others. Some hours after finishing the book I can still remember all the names and some of the details, which shows that the characters must have been reasonably well-drawn and memorable, as well as interesting. Sometimes I can finish a book without ever managing to sort out the different people in it!

There's another interesting subplot which involves a couple who came into one of Marcia Willett's earlier books. Sarah only had a tiny role in 'Those who serve', though her philandering husband Nick had a rather larger one. In this book, Sarah is an old and close friend of Hattie, and we learn a great deal more about her, and her side of the story.

The book is complete in itself - there's no need to have read anything else by this author - but I rather like the small continuities that she writes into her books, letting loyal readers know a little bit more about situations and people who have come into earlier books.

All in all, I enjoyed 'Hattie's Mill'. Recommended to anyone who likes gentle women's fiction that's mainly character-based. Not currently in print in the USA, though it is in the UK, and fairly widely available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 17th December 2008

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