Running Wild (by Victoria Clayton)

I have thoroughly enjoyed all the books I’ve read so far by Victoria Clayton. She was recommended to me by a friend who shares many of my tastes in books, and I’m always pleased to discover a new author. Most of the books are out of print, but readily available second-hand. So I bought this one from the AwesomeBooks site back in December, and have been reading it for the past ten days or so.

‘Running Wild’ is narrated by a young woman called Freddie - short for Elfrida - who has decided to abandon her fiancĂ© Alex just a few days before their elaborate and expensive wedding. The book opens with a note from Freddie’s close friend Viola (who was the main protagonist of the author’s previous book ‘Dance with me’). Viola wants to know what has happened, and offers Freddie the use of her late godmother’s cottage in Dorset.

Freddie needs somewhere to get away from her family and friends, so she heads for Dorset and settles into a very dilapidated cottage, although it has some charm as she gradually discovers. She only plans to stay a night or two, but events and local acquaintances conspire and she begins to feel more at home…

It’s a character-based story, and Victoria Clayton has quite a gift of characterisation. Freddie is clearly run-down health-wise and exhausted; we quickly learn that she doesn’t get along with her stepmother Fay. Yet Fay was apparently organising a high society wedding, even though Freddie started having doubts some weeks earlier. Eventually her only option was to escape, though we don’t learn until much later in the book what triggered her decision.

There are some delightful, albeit caricatured people in the village where she finds herself. There’s a crusty old miller who’s bringing up his grandson alone; a teacher who is extremely keen on pagan rituals; a hen-pecked and harassed vicar who seems to be losing his faith. There are young men who take a shine to Freddie, including a stereotyped German, and there’s also a young and neglected family whom Freddie starts to take care of. However there are some delightful dogs and cats, and I thought that the children were well drawn.

There are some quite moving sections of the book, and incidents showing why some terrible cases of neglect are not reported to the authorities. There are some coincidences, and some changes of heart that seem a little too good to be true. It’s perhaps a tad slow in places, too, and the ending - with one twist - all rather predictable. I wish there wasn't quite so much bad language, nor the propensity for people to leap into bed with each other... but those seem to be required for most novels written this century.

On the whole, though, the writing is very good. This was first published in the year 2000, but set a few decades earlier. so mobile phones and email were unknown. Perhaps conditions were a bit too spartan for realism, yet I felt that there was a believable picture of village life in that period. The sensory detail is just right for my tastes.

Overall I liked this book very much.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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