Apparently I last read ‘The Empty House’ in June 2005, but - as with then - I had no recollection of having come across it before. Sometimes that happens in the first few chapters of a book, but with this one, although the entirely satisfactory ending was somewhat predictable, I didn’t have any memory of the people or the situation or the plot - which was wonderful, as it felt like reading a totally new book.
Virginia is the main character; she’s a likeable, easily biddable young woman in her late twenties. She has recently lost her husband in a nasty accident, and then had a bad attack of flu. So she’s recuperating with her mother’s close friend Alice, in Cornwall. Virginia has two children but they’re with her mother-in-law and ‘Nanny’ in London. Virginia would love to have them with her but rather lacks the gumption to stand up to the establishment.
Then she bumps into Eustace, a friendly farmer who is about ten years older than she is. There’s evidently some history between them, and as the book progresses we learn more about their past. Virginia decides to stand up for herself, for once, and takes on the lease of a rambling, rather dirty cottage then goes to London to fetch her children…
It’s more a novella than a novel, without a great deal of plot. But Rosamunde Pilcher has a tremendous gift of characterisation, and even in such a short book I felt warm towards Virginia and her two flawed by wonderfully lovable children. Cara is a voracious reader and Nicholas is constantly hungry. They don’t have huge parts to play, but I could almost picture them as they start to relax and learn, for the first time, to rely on themselves.
Written in the 1970s as a contemporary novel, the one thing that surprised me about this book was the abundance of cigarettes; was it really so recently that smoking was as commonplace in the UK as drinking coffee? It’s my only slight problem with the book, and one that I can put down to culture and the era. I’d have liked it to be longer, of course; with this author, I never want her books to end. But it works as a novella, a complete gentle read that was ideal for a busy period of the year.
Regularly re-published, both on its own and as part of a 'collection', this can often be found lurking in second-hand bookshops and charity shops. 'The Empty House' is also now available in Kindle form.
Review by Sue F copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews