19/09/2017

Starting Over (by Robin Pilcher)

In my ongoing re-reading of books by favourite authors, I came to this one by Robin Pilcher. Son of the women’s novelist Rosamunde Pilcher, he has clearly inherited some of her gift for characterisation. I was delighted to discover his first novel, written around the time his mother retired from writing, and collected his subsequent books avidly. He only wrote five in all, but I enjoyed them all.

It’s fifteen years since I first read ‘Starting Over’, a title which has been used by other authors: I have at least two other different books by this title. It’s a useful generic title for stories about ends and beginnings, and that’s what this novel is focussed on.

It’s a bit confusing at first, with rather a large cast of characters. We first meet Liz, who has worked on a farm all her life. We quickly learn that her husband left her six months before the story starts, and that she and her student son Alex are now living with Liz’s father. It’s a bit awkward, because her husband lives on the neighbouring farm, and the two have been combined since their marriage. Worse than that, both farms are struggling to make ends meet. An offer has been made to purchase most of the land to turn it into a prestigious golf course, but Liz really doesn’t want any more change in her life…

The first few chapters introduce us to Liz, Alex, and some of their local community, then there’s a slight jar as we switch focus to one of Alex’s university lecturers, who is living with a very pernickety landlady and keeps breaking her rules. Then suddenly we leap across the world to Australia, where we meet Roberta, a single woman in her late fifties who has been living with her elderly parents. The only, rather tentative connection is that she and her father love to play golf… although her father, at ninety, is becoming increasingly frail.

Inevitably the different storylines are woven together, and the story features several different subplots: primarily the fate of the farms, and the various relationships that develop. The writing is good, and the conversations believable. However, there are rather too many detailed descriptions of places for my tastes. I didn’t need to know the names of streets, and what exactly a character could see as they looked from a hotel window. I mostly skimmed these parts, but felt a little irritated at what felt like an attempt either to educate the reader, or to demonstrate the author’s research skills.

It’s not Rosamunde Pilcher, and I was aware several times of the author being male. The women in the book are very well-drawn; the author clearly likes women. Liz is strong, intelligent and knowledgeable about both farming and machinery. She’s a great role model. But at times she seems to respond to other people in what felt like a rather masculine way. There’s a tad more bad language than I’m comfortable with, although I was pleased that intimate scenes are non-existent, relying on hints and memories rather than any detail.

All in all, I liked this book very much, particularly the ending. After fifteen years I had entirely forgotten the plot - it’s not particularly memorable, as there are so many different storylines - and I look forward to reading it again in another ten or more years.

No longer in print in paperback, but available in Kindle form. Sometimes found second-hand, either on its own or in an omnibus edition with one of the author's other novels.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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