17/08/2016

Wild Mountain Thyme (by Rosamunde Pilcher)

I love Rosamunde Pilcher’s books. Although she wrote some under a pseudonym (now long out of print and unavailable) the fourteen novels she wrote under her own name, plus two short-story collections, are widely available and re-printed regularly. I started reading her books in the 1990s and try to re-read them all regularly.

It’s about twelve years since I last read ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’, a character-based story that mostly takes place in Scotland. The main protagonist is Victoria, a young woman who works in a fashion shop although she’s not particularly dedicated to her job. She lives on her own in London and is still slightly pining for a former boyfriend called Oliver who left her three years previously.

Oliver, meanwhile, is a writer experiencing increasing success. We meet him in the first chapter, calling on spec on his former in-laws in the hope of seeing the son he has never met. With a combination of manipulation, chance and an impulse based on irritation, he finds himself with a two-year-old on his hands… and lands himself on Victoria, persuading her to take a holiday in Scotland with him.

In the first chapters we also meet John, a Scottish-American businessman who flies around the world although he’s theoretically based in London. And we meet Jock and Roddy, brothers in their sixties who live on a farming estate in Scotland. It takes a few chapters before the connections between these people become clear, and it’s perhaps slightly confusing to be introduced to so many individuals right at the start. But the story quickly gets going, following Oliver and Victoria in their journey north, and also seeing the slower way of life that the small Scottish village enjoys.

While I sometimes find Pilcher’s conversations a bit stilted, her characterisation is excellent. I warmed to Victoria despite her being very different from me; I found Oliver rather selfish, despite Victoria being devoted to him. I remembered major plot points shortly before they occurred: a sad event that precedes Oliver and Victoria’s arrival in Scotland, and a highly dramatic event, foreshadowed a few times, that forms part of the climax.

It didn’t matter at all that I knew the rough outline of the story. I’d forgotten almost entirely what happens to the main characters, and even if I hadn’t, they’re so well drawn and so believable that, for a few hours, I felt as if I were amongst old friends, reminiscing and enjoying their company.

Inevitably Pilcher’s books seem dated nowadays. This one was first published in 1978, before computers and mobile phones were in use, and when class consciousness was still ingrained even in the nicest of people, albeit mostly benign. What always slightly jars is the number of people who smoke in these books, and mention of smoke-filled restaurants. Even forty years ago I didn’t know more than a handful of people who smoked, and it was known to be a health hazard even then.

None of this detracts from my enjoyment of the book, which I recommend highly to anyone who likes thoughtful character-based gentle women’s fiction.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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