How’s this for a book-selling wheeze? Bring out part one (for the Kindle), leave the reader with a cliff hanger, then follow up with three more monthly serial parts. It’s going to work for me.
A Place for Us begins with a quotation from Dodie Smith’s Dear Octopus:
… the family—that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape, nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.
Martha Winter is preparing for her eightieth birthday party and sends out an intriguing invitation:
David & Martha Winter request the pleasure of your company at a party to celebrate Martha’s 80th Birthday There will be an important announcement. We ask that you please be there.
This event will apparently ‘tear apart her family’.
Martha lives with her artist husband at Winterfold, a lovely house which was once a bustling family home but now contains just the two of them. We know that both came originally from the East End and that there’s some mystery about how they met and got together during or possibly just after the war. It’s also slightly strange that two Londoners, one of whom needs access to London for work, should have chosen to leave it for a country house they couldn’t then afford. The book begins with Martha’s musings and her posting of the fateful invitations, then moves on to each member of the family in turn.
Although the Winters appear to have the perfect life (or as perfect as it can be at that age), their children are pretty screwed up. Daisy is the difficult one. A cruel and wayward child, as an adult she went overseas to do Good Works, abandoning her baby daughter Cat to be brought up by the grandparents. Clever Florence is an art historian living in (ha ha) Florence, where she makes a fool of herself over a man, silly woman. Sweet Bill, the stable one who still lives near home working as a GP, has troubles he seems unaware of; his second wife Karen is discontented and his marriage is nearer the rocks than he realises. The last main character is Lucy, Bill’s daughter from his first marriage. Not one of these people is really happy or successful. Yet Winterfold draws them back. Cat, working in Paris (another woman suffering man trouble), has a secret she hasn’t revealed even to her beloved Gran. Living hand to mouth, More and more she found herself drawn to the novels of her childhood, the books that filled the upstairs shelves at Winterfold: Edmund Crispin, Georgette Heyer, Mary Stewart..
Will the entire family obey the summons and attend the birthday party? What will the ‘important announcement’ be? There’s a bombshell on the last page as Martha reflects that ‘This thing she had been dragging around for so long would be gone soon.’
I read Part One courtesy of NetGalley; it will be available from 31st July. Then there will be three more monthly instalments before the whole book is published as a paperback in January 2015. I for one can’t wait that long and shall be looking forward to my next fix as summer turns into autumn. Harriet Evans is a new author to me and she’s hit on a winning formula here: I’m hooked!