🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂
Christmas at Southdown Farm is always an uncomfortable time for Clover Moon, since her disapproving mother-in-law Violet comes visiting. But this year’s even worse than usual. Firstly, Clover has realised she’s deeply unhappy with her life and is in a permanent state of rage. And secondly, someone appears to be trying to hurt her, perhaps even kill her. Clover is sure that Violet has finally lost her senses and become dangerous. Meantime Miss Bates, a resident of the nearby Happy Haven home for the elderly, has disappeared. As the worst snow for decades continues to fall, the farm is cut off without phone or electricity and fears for Miss Bates’ safety grow…
Each Gillian White book seems to be stylistically different to the others. There are some things that do link them – the excellent quality of the writing, the creation of rather quirky characters, good if sometimes far-fetched plotting and an undercurrent of humour, though that shows up more in some than in others. This book has all of those things. White’s description of the isolated snowbound farm is chilling in more ways than one, as we see Clover’s husband battle the elements to look after his herd of cows while trying to prevent the house from being flooded by the overflowing river, not to mention dealing with the dead body that’s floated into the cellar along with the floodwater. The humour is quite muted, but comes through blackly at points, and the plotting is fairly complex, though to be honest I’d more or less guessed both what had happened and what the outcome would be by about the halfway point.
The characterisation is White’s real strength and she’s assembled a strong cast here. We learn through flashbacks of Violet’s unhappy early life when her widowed father married the archetypal wicked stepmother. Clover is shown as an unstable drama-queen, quite unsuited to be a farmer’s wife, as Violet pointed out well before the wedding. We see Fergus, tied to the land by his family’s expectations, trying to please everyone and failing. The manager of Happy Havens is a middle-aged woman, fearing that she will have to give up her freedom to look after her aging and not-terribly-lovable old father. And the one likeable character is Miss Kessel, the worried friend and roommate of the missing Miss Bates.
While I found this a clever and well put together tale, the unlikeablity of most of the characters prevented me from feeling really engaged with the story. White has also used the ‘omniscient narrator’ device, never a favourite trick of mine; and this particular narrator has a technique of interjecting sly little asides that I found rather annoying. The earlier timeline of Violet’s childhood was much more interesting to me than the gathering of rather unpleasant and self-obsessed people in the present-day farm. But all of these points are a matter of personal taste rather than a real criticism of the writing. Overall, I found this another well written and quirky tale – not quite White’s best, but still enjoyable and worth reading.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Open Road.