23/03/2012

The Summer House (by Marcia Willett)

I've been reading novels by Marcia Willett for many years, now, and have gradually collected them all to date. I was given the most recently published one for Christmas, and have just finished reading it.

'The Summer House'has quite a large cast of characters, inter-connected in a variety of ways and involved in several sub-plots; at first I found this rather confusing, wondering where the story was going, and who I should make an effort to remember.

For instance, there's Matt, who has written a best-selling novel but is suffering from writers' block. He's plagued with insecurities and often feels disorientated. It turns out that the overall theme of the story is about Matt, but that's not immediately obvious. Then there's Matt's sister Imogen, who is not entirely happy in her marriage to a busy vet. They have a small and daughter, although she never really becomes a real person in the book.

Then there's their friend Nick who is decidedly unhappy with his marriage, and on the verge of separation. Nick gets into some financial difficulties, and his father Milo decides to sell a small house he has been renting out. He would like it to remain with one of his loved ones, but making the offer causes a lot of tension...

The person I latched onto most easily was Lottie, Milo's young sister-in-law, who lives in a platonic kind of sibling relationship with him, looking after him to some extent, but living an entirely independent life. She's a gentle, intuitive presence throughout the book, with a great deal of wisdom and natural diplomacy. I liked Lottie very much.

I was less keen on Venetia, Milo's lady-friend, and less keen still on Annabel, a businesswoman who is rather keen on Matt. Still, I did gradually become familiar with all these significant people in the book, which is a testament to the author's skill in characterisation - even if I didn't ever feel that any of them (other than, perhaps, Lottie) were my friends.

The book is written in Marcia Willett's usual warm style, with a fair amount of description but never too much. The plots involve secrets and misunderstandings from the past which affect different people (particularly Matt) in different ways.

Critics have compared Willett with Rosamunde Pilcher, but I think that's unfair: she doesn't have the immense gift of bringing people to life that Pilcher has, but she can write a good story and draw the reader into her world, albeit in a different way.

The gradual uncovering of Matt's past made sense - I'd guessed at some of it already - and although in places there was a bit too much introspection for my tastes, it was overall a pleasant, heartwarming read. Recommended to anyone who likes low-key women's fiction in a family saga style.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 23rd March 2012

1 comment:

Hotel Nami Residency said...

The Summer House is a splendid new novel by one of my favorite current authors. It is the story of a highly successful and unusual family, brought together both by love and necessity. I do not want to give away the plot, so I will not summarize it here.