Happy New Year everybody! Can you believe that it is 2020? Wow- where did that come from?! I recall watching early Sci-Fi flicks as a kid which depicted 2020 as a car-flying-we-all-live-in-the-sky-the-robots-have-taken-over-and-aliens-are-attacking-us world.
Now we are here, there’s a whole lot more going on. As an Aussie I have been glued to the news and media these past weeks as my home country burns to a crisp, and living in one wilderness where climate change is ever present and ever changing of the world around me, and looking upon another wilderness which is dealing with the full brunt of such changes, I cannot help but feel slightly helpless this week.
If you are reading this, please join me in hoping / praying / begging to whatever higher being you speak to, for rain. Rain. We need rain.
As you can imagine, faced with such daunting images on my social media feed and speaking to many family and friends who are in the thick of the bushfires ravaging my homeland, I was feeling despondent and helpless. So, in an effort to improve the general mood and the saggy, sour expression on my face, I did what I do best. I picked up a book.
This one has been sitting on my window seat, dare I say it, looking pretty, for a couple of weeks since we unpacked my house. I launched into reading it like an old friend.
So, here I am now to give you the next review and the first for 2020. I hope that your New Year is off to a great start. I hope that you are happy, healthy, safe and prosperous, wherever you are. And, of course, I hope that you are reading too.
And now…the book of the hour is…….
Hannah Tunnicliffe delivers a character driven novel, devoted to unveiling the story of six friends, who come together to reunite against the delicious backdrop of the French coast in Brittany. The novel starts with Juliette, who is suffering in wake of her mother’s death and the unraveling of her life forthwith. Juliette, a Parisian chef and restaurateur surreptitiously abandons her city life and establishes herself in the small coastal town of Douarnenez. There she takes up work as the chef and house manager of Max’s holiday escape, a renovated cottage on the coastline.
Enter Max, an aging rock star who is battling his way through a somewhat predictable mid-life crisis. He is holding on to his younger self through a combination of denial, wit, and drug abuse. In Max’s mind, the way out of his troubles is to woo Helen, his long term muse and a member of the rat pack six, who will join him at his cottage for his fortieth Birthday.
This sets the scene for the six friends that follow. Lars and Nina, Rosie and her un-loveable husband Hugo, Eric and his new girlfriend Beth, Max, and of course Helen. Also enter Sophie, the sulky daughter of Nina and Lars, and Soliel, Helen’s half-sister.
The novel provides context through flashbacks which help to develop character and explain decisions and actions. It also assists to drive the plot forward, showing the good times past and the closeness of the six long-term friends.
I personally like novels that are both character and plot driven. In this respect, I would place Tunnicliffe’s work on the scale of character driven, with little supportive plot. The whole story takes place over the course of the weekend, with the ending an addendum at the back “a year later.” And in terms of shocking plot twists, there is one which would have been cleverly used, if not for the closeness of the ending, which served to unveil the big climactic twist, only to end suddenly and without development.
Overall, the book beautifully places the story in France, with descriptions of Springtime flowers, long sunsets, marketplaces and beautiful gardens. The introduction of food certainly makes the reader’s mouth water, though it does little to aid the story itself. In terms of character development, Tunnicliffe has an eye for this and is able to develop complications and twists that could be interesting. However, there seems to be just too many characters here, with little time to offer clear definitions. The introduction of Soliel did little for the novel. Juliette is frustratingly silent about her fallen life, the characters of Eddie and Lars could have easily been intertwined, Max is annoyingly predictable, and everyone loves Helen, like everyone loves Daisy in The Great Gatsby, why?- I don’t know, I found her dismissive, flippant, spoiled and overall quite baseline.
So, where does that leave us? Beautiful concept, beautiful scenery. The story was not boring by any means, and there was an interesting theme of finding one’s happy ever after, whatever it may be. However, the characters were too plentiful, introducing too many complications that never really went anywhere. The ending seemed rushed, everyone got what they wanted, and there was little in the way of concluding the novel with a meaningful resolution.
I would give this a 3 1/2 stars. Definitely a wonderful rainy day read, and one that would be a great exercise for someone looking for some easy escapism. Perhaps you will pick this up and let me know what you think. It certainly served to check the box in terms of cozy reads on a balmy negative 40 degree day in sunny Fairbanks, Alaska! If only we could give some snow to Australia!
Until next time readers…