18/01/2017

Summer on the River (by Marcia Willett)

It’s many years since I picked up the first of Marcia Willett’s ‘Chadwick’ series in a charity shop, and found myself hooked! I started to acquire and read her other books, and each time she publishes a new one, I add the paperback edition to my wishlist. I was given this one for Christmas, and have just finished reading it.

‘Summer on the River’ features quite a cast of people, and if I’d been reading just a couple of chapters each evening, as I usually do, I think I would have become very confused. It’s not as if they’re people from former books (as far as I recall) - and their connections don’t become clear until quite a way into the book.

However, I happened to start this on a flight, and read for about three hours, by which time I was well into the book and felt I knew the people. Marcia Willett creates likeable characters, and usually keeps their names and personalities different enough that it’s not too hard to remember who is who, at least once the connections are established. Evie is the linchpin of this book; an older woman who lives in a boat-house in Devon, but has also been left a much larger family house by her late husband. This seems odd to the family because she was his second wife, and the property was expected to go to her step-son Charlie.

Meanwhile Charlie’s cousin Ben is staying in the family home, because his marriage has broken up; they resemble each other strongly and are very good friends, so Charlie doesn’t in the least mind Ben living in the house, but his materialistic wife Ange becomes quite antagonistic.

Throw into the mix a young, bohemian woman called Jemima who is highly attracted to Charlie, an old family friend called Claude whom Evie confides in, and an unbalanced man called Jason whose father worked rather too closely with Evie many years previously. Oh, and a couple of likeable children and a dog. The novel charts their interactions, with a hint of mystery and possible menace, but the latter is not really fulfilled.

There’s not a great deal of plot, nor even much of a time-frame; the story essentially covers a long summer, and then the later part of the year ending with Christmas. There are flashbacks, of course, to fill us in on the past, but the main part of the novel is told in the present tense, switching between viewpoints in a way that works well, showing different perspectives.

It was a good book to read on a flight as it didn’t require much mental energy, but I have to admit that it’s a bit rambly in places; Willett has a gift for both description and conversation, but there’s also rather more inward reflection than I wanted, and places which seemed somewhat repetitive.

My other gripe is that the amount of adultery involved - whether having happened, or contemplated - seems rather high for one group of people. Given that this writer demonstrates quite a strong Christian ethos in some of her books, and whose writing is, thankfully, almost entirely free of bad language, there seems remarkably little that’s ethical in this novel.

Deceptions abound, and nobody seems to have any problem with people going to bed together casually. The one person who had suffered through an adulterous relationship is shown to be bitter, twisted and generally unlikeable.

But still, overall I thought it a good read; not in the style of the ‘Chadwick’ series, but still very readable with mostly believable characters, and a novel that I’m glad to have on my shelves.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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