Out of Love (by Victoria Clayton)

I have no idea where I heard of this book, or why it was, for at least a year, on my Amazon wishlist. I had not previously heard of Victoria Clayton and know nothing about her. I assume it was recommended to me at some point, or perhaps I read a review of it. I had almost forgotten it was there - the book is out of print, and was only available from the Marketplace - so was delighted to be given a good quality second-hand edition for my recent birthday.

‘Out of Love’ is about thirty-something Diana, known to most of her friends as Daisy. She’s an academic who lives a fairly solitary life by choice, with a few romantic excursions that are far from satisfactory. We first meet her at an Oxford University reunion, thus establishing her credentials instantly, talking to her friend Min. They have not seen each other for fifteen years, despite being best friends through their school years, and we quickly learn that this was due to a very unfortunate misunderstanding where Diana, without intending to, betrayed her friend.

Diana, it seems, has looks and elegance, while Min is casual and bohemian. Their meeting is followed by Diana promising to visit her friend, who is married with two school-age children. There’s a flashback sequence where we learn how they became friends, and what led to their parting, and then the story moves forward as Diana goes to stay for a long weekend with her friend.

The first hours are not auspicious: the phone lines are down so she has to make her own way there, and Min’s husband seems to take her in dislike almost from the start. The house is cold, the younger child unattractive, the bedroom uncomfortable, the dog smelly, the food unappetising… Diana tries to think of ways in which she could make her visit shorter.

Then an accident strikes and she ends up staying for considerably longer….

This is unashamedly a character-based book, and the people are very well drawn. The writing is excellent - in places it reminded me of Susan Howatch, one of my favourite authors. The pace is perfect for my tastes; it was an ideal book to read for ten or fifteen minutes at bedtime, and despite a relatively large cast, I usually remembered who was whom. As I got further into the book, I read more and more, during the daytime as well as at night as almost everyone started to get under my skin.

The book is nearly twenty years old, thus free of modern trappings such as mobile phones and wifi. On the other hand, the adults all seem to smoke. There’s a lot of drinking and more bad language than I’m comfortable with, and yet I absolutely loved it. The various subplots are cleverly crafted, the relationships nicely developed, and while everything feels believable, nothing is predictable. I didn’t know where the main romantic thread was going, and was pleasantly surprised at the outcome, and the gentle and entirely satisfactory ending.

It’s going to appeal a lot more to women than to men, and mostly to those who like character-based stories without fast action or suspense. But I have no hesitation in recommending it highly to anyone who likes women’s fiction, and have immediately put two more of the author’s books on my wishlist.

No longer in print in paperback, but fairly widely available second-hand; the book is also published in Kindle form on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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