Voices in Summer (by Rosamunde Pilcher)

I have loved everything I have read by Rosamunde Pilcher, and have most of her books on my shelves. Re-reading them is always a joy; her characterisation is so good that I usually feel as if I’m slipping into a reunion with old friends. However, I have just re-read ‘Voices in Summer’, which I last read in 2008. And while I liked it very much, I could not remember anything about it.

Indeed, after the first three or four chapters, I could almost have sworn I had never read it before. The story is about Laura, who is in her late thirties, and we meet her just emerging from a doctor’s surgery. Laura, we quickly learn, is happily - but fairly recently - married to Alec. Alec is rather older than she is, and was married before, to the glamorous horse-made Erica. They had a daughter, Gabriel, whom Alec has not seen since his wife left him six years earlier.

Alec and his friends have a regular summer break together in Scotland, where they fish and shoot and enjoy the countryside. Laura is not looking forward to going, because his friends were all close friends of Erica’s, and she finds it hard to get on with them. Now her doctor has told her that she must have minor surgery - we never learn exactly what the problem is - and that she must not travel to Scotland afterwards.

We meet Phyllis, too, Laura’s beloved aunt who brought her up when her parents died. I l liked Phyllis, but after a chapter showing their interactions, when Laura goes to see her, Phyllis doesn’t come into the story again. I’m not entirely sure why she was introduced so thoroughly, unless it was to demonstrate some of Laura’s background, and why Laura is - other than Phyllis - rather alone in the world. She has no other relatives at all.

Alec, by contrast, has quite a number of relatives; we meet a few of them in passing, but the ones who agree to look after Laura while she recuperates are his uncle Gerald and his wife Eve. I didn’t quite understand why it was fine for Laura to travel to Cornwall but not to Scotland, as the distances would have been similar; but perhaps it was because Eve is good at looking after people, and the atmosphere is warm and relaxing, while Alec’s friends in Scotland certainly wouldn’t want to be burdened with an invalid.

Most of the story takes place in Cornwall, while Laura gradually recovers her health and strength, in the company of Eve’s son Ivan, who lives in the nearby lodge. We meet the bohemian Drusilla with her grubby baby Joshua; the elderly former nursemaid May (although I’m not sure why she was so very old, gnarled and forgetful as it turns out that she is only 78), and their rather lonely neighbour and friend Silvia. Eve is warm-hearted and kind, and loves to gather people in need around her; Gerald is wealthy enough that she can do so, although it is sometimes emotionally exhausting for her.

A slight twist to the story involves a very unpleasant series of anonymous notes, with suspicion cast on various people before the truth is revealed. It’s not a detective story; I had guessed the perpetrator fairly quickly (or perhaps recalled them subconsciously from a former re-reading, although I still didn’t recognise the plot or people.) But it’s very well done, outlining the dangers of suspicions, of jumping to conclusions, and of the possibility of mental illness striking unawares.

It’s not a long book; just over 200 pages in paperback, and I read it over about three days. It’s not my favourite Rosamunde Pilcher, and perhaps the characters and plot are not particularly memorable. But that has one big advantage that in another ten years or so I should be able to read it again as if for the first time. As with all this author’s books the characters feel realistic, the conversation if a tad long-winded mostly advances the story well, and the descriptions are exactly right (at least, from my perspective) to paint an overview of the surroundings, without being over-detailed or dull.

Recommended. This book can often be found in charity shops, but I'm delighted to see that it has been reprinted in paperback in the UK, and that it is also available in Kindle form on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by Sue F copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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