Past Mischief (by Victoria Clayton)

It’s a while now since an email friend suggested that I might like the novels by Victoria Clayton. I was told that it’s best to read them in the published order, as characters from earlier novels sometimes appear in later ones in ways that would become spoilers if read in the wrong order. I read and very much enjoyed ‘Out of Love’ a few months ago so decided to acquire a few more. Unfortunately they’re out of print now, but on a recent trip to the UK I used the Amazon Marketplace to buy a couple more at a very low price.

I’ve just finished reading ‘Past Mischief’, which is told from the point of view of a woman called Miranda whose husband Jack has just died in what appears to be a tragic accident. However it quickly transpires that Jack was something of a philanderer, and while Miranda is very shocked, she had fallen out of love with him some time previously.

Her task now is to help their three teenage children come to terms with what has happened, and also to find a way of continuing to live in their rather expensive manor house…

Miranda has a wide circle of acquaintances including the devoted Ivor, her old nanny Rose, and a couple of close friends in the village. Some of these are decidedly caricatured, but it doesn’t matter; that makes them easier to remember. The suggestion is made to take paying guests, and although a little nervous, Miranda loves having visitors and is an excellent cook.

The novel then revolves around the various people concerned. It’s character-based rather than having any particular plot, other than seeing how Miranda and her children move on with their lives. There are inevitably some romances, mostly quite low-key, and a few shocks along the way; towards the end a couple of revelations felt a tad unlikely; I’m not over-enamoured with coincidences. However, they were explained in a way that made sense, and I don’t have a problem with loose ends of a novel being tied up neatly.

The writing is good, peppered with quotations from Shakespeare, and Miranda’s gradual self-awareness and discoveries about herself are quite thought-provoking. I liked her friends Patience and Lissy, and really didn’t like her friend Maeve at all; however, it’s a mark of a good novel that people got under my skin in this way. I very much liked Miranda’s three very different teenage children.

I didn’t find this as enjoyable as ‘Out of Love’. Parts of it seem a little over-sordid, even though most events take place off-stage. There were some scenes that didn’t really add anything to the plot - such as the rather appalling honeymoon couple who were Miranda’s first guests - and there was a sense of the novel being a sequence of events, rather than a story. There’s an unexpected subplot involving the teenage Elizabeth, for instance, which helps Miranda see her priorities, yet it’s almost forgotten in subsequent chapters.

But still, it made a good read and I expect some of the characters will remain in my mind for some time to come. Fairly widely available second-hand.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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