Moonshine (by Victoria Clayton)

I have thoroughly enjoyed the novels I have read so far by Victoria Clayton, after the recommendation of an online friend who shares a lot of my reading tastes. Most of them are out of print, but I’ve managed to obtain them from Amazon Marketplace, or the AwesomeBooks site. I’ve had ‘Moonshine’ on my to-read shelf for a while. At almost 700 pages it’s a long book, so I knew it wouldn't be a quick read. And, indeed, it took me nearly two weeks to finish it, mostly just reading before falling asleep at night.

It takes a while for this novel to get going. The main protagonist is a young woman called Bobbie. We meet her as she’s feeling somewhat unwell in a ferry crossing the Bristol Channel. She meets a charming young man called Kit who is also travelling to Ireland. He’s a book editor, and planning to visit several of his authors. He and Bobbie get chatting, and over the course of the next few days Bobbie tells him her recent story…

Bobbie has been having an affair with a somewhat eminent politician, we quickly discover. She knew all along that it was risky, but everything blew up when the papers got hold of the story. Her lover is married, and she doesn’t want him to have to give up his career. So she’s answered an advertisement for a housekeeper in a castle in a remote part of Ireland.

It takes about 160 pages of the book to explore the details of Bobbie’s affair, and while it certainly establishes her character, and (to some extent) that of Kit, I couldn’t see at first how it added to the story, which only really gets going once she arrives at her destination. The castle turns out to be in a terrible state, with kitchens in chaos and family relationships stressed. Bobbie is a born organiser who likes to put things right, so after a rather unpleasant beginning, she decides to stay…

The rest of the book is about her developing relationships with each of the diverse family members and friends who live in the castle. She turns their lives upside down, bringing sanity, good food and some great ideas. She becomes very friendly with Constance, sister of the castle owner, and the person mostly responsible for bringing up his children. I particularly liked the two younger children, Flavia - who is sensitive and soft-hearted, and spends all her time reading - and Flurry, who is on the autistic spectrum, and loves building railways.

It was an ideal book for bedtime reading, as I could dip into a chapter or two then put it aside without regret. Nothing was overly gripping, but it was mostly easy to remember who was whom, and I was interested in the way the different subplots developed. There are several romantic attachments which occur through the book; I realised that Bobbie would end up with somebody, but until about half-way through the book I was looking at the wrong person.

There’s quite a bit of social history and context; the Irish ‘troubles’ are not just mentioned in passing, but play quite a significant part in the storyline, interwoven amongst the growing friendships. One particular event places the novel firmly at the end of the 1970s. The author explores several points of view, portraying scared young men in the guise of protesters and soldiers. It wasn’t until quite late in the book that I started to see how everything fit together, and the significance of the early part of the story.

Many themes are lightly touched upon, such as the significance of the Catholic church in children’s upbringing, the difficulties of some marriages and the stresses that can occur between parents and children. I found myself often moved, and regularly appreciating the literary references and the brisk conversations. Whereas the previous book, 'Clouds among the stars', was almost sordid at times, this one was, I felt, much less so.

All in all, I liked 'Moonshine' very much. Recommended if you enjoy women’s fiction with a bit more punch - and length! - than many. Brief reference is made to one or two of Clayton’s characters from an earlier book, but it would not matter at all if you had not read it.

This book is still in print, unlike some of the author's other books, and also available in Kindle form. It can often be found second-hand, too (as I did).

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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