What an engrossing story this is. Gilli Allan seems to get better and better in my opinion. The story concerns the quiet and self-effacing Eleanor, as she journeys through a traumatic period of her life. Having become a teenage wife and mother, all she has known is devotion to her own invalid mother, her children and her husband. Her 13-year-old twins sometimes seem to be more worldly-wise than her. She's suppressed her own needs and desires so completely that she seems almost without personality. As such, she is quite difficult to relate to intimately and the reader has to get to know her in the same way as the other characters. Nevertheless, it's impossible to dislike her. Like all Allan's characters, Eleanor is complex and real. Eleanor's husband, Trevor is a rather devious, self-serving man; I suspected and disliked him from the outset and at no time did he redeem himself. Yet he was no less real – in fact I felt I knew him all too well! Having sold Eleanor's family home in Battersea for a substantial price, Trevor moves his family to the country to enjoy 'clean air, green fields, a house with a proper garden and a driveway'. Trevor selfishly pursues his new career and indulgences, while Eleanor tries to fit in with her sophisticated neighbours and sort out the marathon renovations of the new house. Enter Patrick, the builder, a likeable rogue, whose constant harmless lies make him enigmatic and fascinating and who extends a warm hand of friendship to Eleanor, helping her through her most difficult times. The village of Downland is peopled with interesting characters, Katherine, Felicity, Elizabeth and their husbands, as well as Patrick and the even more mysterious David, to whom Eleanor is secretly drawn. But no one in Downland is quite what they seem, as Eleanor has to discover in often painful ways. This includes her own family and most of all, herself. Ms Allan writes about seemingly ordinary people in ordinary settings, but, of course, neither is ordinary. The characters are richly drawn in all their complexities, yet grittily realistic and engaging. The settings are carefully painted with the reverence of an artist who has a deep affinity with the countryside. The story is compellingly told with a well-sustained narrative flow. I found it deeply engrossing and sat up late into the night more than once, unable to put it down. It gathers momentum, like a snowball rolling downhill, hurtling towards its dramatic conclusion. I look forward to reading more from this talented writer.
Words – Lyn Sofras
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