The Songbird (by Marcia Willett)

I have enjoyed all the novels I’ve read by Marcia Willett over the years since I first discovered one of her books at a local thrift store. I’ve gradually acquired each new book she’s written, mostly via gifts from relatives. I was given ‘The Songbird’ last Christmas, after placing it on my wish list, and have just finished reading it.

Marcia Willett writes character-based novels, where relationships are more important than a strong story-line. I found this one a bit confusing at first as there seemed to be such a large cast, and it was tricky keeping everyone in my mind. First we meet Mattie, a young woman who works in London, who has recommended that her colleague Tim spend his sabbatical in a family house in Devon.

We quickly learn that Mattie’s sister Charlotte lives in the same row of cottages, with her infant son Oliver; her husband Andy is in the navy, and mostly away. Andy’s father William lives next door with his cousin Kat, and the whole is owned by the elderly Francis, who has some relationship with William but that’s rather hazy until later in the book. Gradually each one became more real in my mind as I read; each is quite distinct, although it was hard to keep track in the earlier chapters.

I liked Mattie very much; she’s enthusiastic, and as we rapidly discover (and it’s mentioned in the blurb on the back) she’s been in love with Tim for some time, although she’s never said anything. Tim has a secret which he doesn’t want anyone to know, although that, too, is fairly quickly revealed to the reader. The elderly Francis is perceptive and is a devout Catholic; he, too, has his secrets which come out during the course of the book.

I never entirely believed in Kat, who’s a former ballet dancer with a string of affairs in her past; she likes to seduce men and is rather too cold-hearted and self-centred for my tastes. But I became quite fond of William, who is estranged from his wife Fiona. There are other characters too… mostly of lesser importance, other than the dog Wooster who plays an important part in everyone’s lives.

As for the story… there really isn’t all that much. The novel takes place over a few months, while Tim ponders his future. He and Mattie become closer, Kat meets the likeable Jerry and starts a new romance. Charlotte worries a lot about her son, and how she’ll relate to her husband when he comes home from leave, and everyone wonders what will happen when Francis is no longer around.

The writing is good, with some realistic conversations and some poignant moments. I was surprised how quickly I felt caught up in the lives of these diverse people; as Tim becomes more involved in their community, feeling like part of the family, I found myself feeling fond of them all, to varying degrees.

There’s a tad more of a Christian focus than there is in the author’s other books, although it’s done very well, in my view, without being pushy. There’s no bad language and no details of intimate scenes, although as with so many modern fiction books, characters seem to leap into bed with each other all too easily.

I’d recommend this to anyone who likes the gentle, character-based fiction of this nature. The ending is positive without being overdone, and the people will probably stay in my mind for some time.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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