The House on Willow Street (by Cathy Kelly)

For perhaps a year or more, Amazon had been recommending that I read books by Cathy Kelly, based on my ratings and the books I had on my wishlist. So I finally put one of her novels on my list, and was given it for my birthday a few months ago. I picked up ‘The House on Willow Street’ to read a few days ago, and have just finished it.

The novel is based in a village in Ireland, and the prologue had me almost mesmerised. We meet Danae, postmistress of Avalon, and recipient of many secrets. Danae herself is a quiet, undemonstrative person, presumably middle-aged. I couldn’t keep track of all the people she meets in a typical week, but that didn’t matter. The writing style felt like that of Maeve Binchy, and I knew that this would be a gentle, character-based book set in a community I would love to visit, if only it were real.

The novel is in fact a bit more gritty than Binchy’s, and covers some difficult topics. There are four main characters, all women: Danae’s niece Mara is feeling traumatised by the break-up of what she thought was a long-lasting relationship and decides to visit her aunt rather than her more extraverted family. Mara is unconventional, and domesticated, and does what she can to break through Danae’s very private shell.

The other two main characters are the sisters Tess and Suki. They grew up in a crumbling ancestral home with no money to repair it, or even heat it. It was sold before the novel begins, but Tess still feels nostalgic towards it. We meet Tess in the throes of relationship trauma too; she and her husband Kevin are having a trial separation. She’s very close to her teenage son Zach and younger daughter Kitty, and they can’t understand why their dad isn’t living with them any longer. Then he meets someone else…

As for Suki, she’s living in the United States to start with. She clearly has quite a chequered past; she was married for a while to a very wealthy man, and there’s evidently a secret in her past that led to their divorce. She then lived with a rock star, and had a very unhealthy lifestyle before they split up; and now she’s writing a book, living with rather an uncouth man who does nothing to help.

The other people in the village are of less significance, but their appearance helps to round it out as a realistic community. Some of them are rather larger than life, but stereotyped minor characters don’t really matter; it’s easier to tell them apart. The four main women are three-dimensional and believable, even if Suki’s life is about as far removed from my own as I could imagine.

The main part of the novel starts with a section labelled ‘Autumn’, which sees the start of some changes in the main characters’ lives. The longest section, taking over half the book, is called ‘Winter’. As well as seeing colder weather, and Christmas, this section has some things ending, and the revealing of Danae’s secret. The final, very short section, is ‘Spring’, heralding some positive changes for the future.

The writing is good, paced just right for me to read it at bedtime, and then - sometimes - pick it up for half an hour in the day. I didn’t always remember who some of the minor characters were, but that didn’t matter too much. I found Suki’s ‘secret’ rather shocking, but was a tad disappointed when Tess’s ‘secret’ is finally unpacked - it didn’t seem to warrant the antagonism or heart searching that both she and the other related character had been suffering.

All in all, though, I enjoyed this very much. As soon as I had finished, I checked some reviews on Amazon and added a few more Cathy Kelly novels to my wishlist. Definitely recommended if you like warm character-based women’s fiction with some important issues included.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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