When Isabel Delancey's husband is killed in a car accident she is left with her two children, fifteen-year old Kitty and eleven-year old Thierry and no money to keep living the life she is accustomed to. Laurent, her French husband had always cushioned her from the reality of life after she found she couldn't cope with being a stay at home mum and housewife. After all, she had married young and her music, her violin and her place in a famous orchestra was a large part of her life. Much as she loved her children it made more sense to have a live-in nanny, Mary and her beautiful home in London. Left penniless with no idea of how to keep their house on Isabel has to face the harsh reality; she isn't going to be ale to keep her home, let alone the nanny.
Fortunately fate steps in with a legacy from a relative she never knew about. Samuel Pottisworth, a distant relative owned a large run-down property in the village of Little Barton in Norfolk. After his anticipated but untimely death, the house known locally as 'the Spanish House' with several hundred acres of property and a beautiful lakeside view, defaults to his last-known relatives. In doing so several people are thoroughly disgusted with him, after all, there were the McCarthy family who expected to get some reward for feeding and looking after the awkward old man in his dotage. Then there were a few more people who could have some claim to it, including a man called Byron, with a disturbingly secretive past.
This is the rather frightening situation that Isabel and her family are forced into, after having nowhere else to live their arrival at the run-down house is a shock for them as well. With so much work needing to be done to make the house remotely habitable, Isabel has to grow up quickly and take on responsibilities she was never prepared for, or her family will be forced apart.
This is the plot of Jojo Moyer's book, Night Music that was published in 2009. The author has had some critical acclaim with several award-winning books, and proves her ability as a leading romance writer in the genre. Although not something I would normally read, I felt like a change and the paperback cover with it's rather stylish depiction of a well-dressed woman looking through chiffon curtains appealed to my senses. The write-up sounded intriguing, although the riches to rags story wasn't entirely new, it did make a change to the other way round. I quite liked the idea of a crumbling old house out in the sticks and an inept woman having to cope with it.
What I found.
The opening chapters gave me some idea what to expect from the book. The McCarthy family, Matt, wife Laura and son Anthony lived near to the old man and did a lot for him, often putting up with his ingratitude and grumpiness. Laura in particular put up with his sly ways of teasing her while Matt did little except keeping the property tidy; though as a builder he could have done more. In fact Matt had his eyes on the house as prime development land. Obviously the old man knew about it, as he didn't leave them anything in a will.
I quickly developed a feel for the characters and the problems they faced. I did feel sorry for Isabel although I did get annoyed with her at times for not living in the real world. However, as a single parent who had to work I could understand her fear of not coping. As the story gets under way she becomes less of a spoiled woman and more self-sufficient, although she had no idea that she was being very naïve about certain characters, especially Matt, who worms his way into her house by pretending to do it up for her. Instead he makes a mess, putting her further into debt and eventually forcing a crisis.
The children are well drawn with young Kitty managing to cope with basic household duties. Then there's Thierry, who is so traumatized that he doesn't speak. I felt a lot for his character and hoped he would respond favorably to some attention by Byron, who does some work for Matt but is an enigma, a man who seems more at home outdoors and who teaches Thierry to love the woods and fields. In fact the author develops this side of the characters in a very clever way, getting two people together who communicate more with nature than with people. I looked forward to the chapters with both in it and hoped that a romance would develop between Isabel and Byron.
Matt comes over as a rather nasty piece of work who does all he can to bring the house crashing down around Isabel's feet and I couldn't understand why this would benefit him if he had to put his blunders right later on. He's also a womanizer with Laura, his long-suffering wife knowing more than she wants to face. This changes when another character comes on the scene, but I don't want to give away too much of the plot. Moyes also writes in her fringe characters deftly and although it's been done before, I loved her two gay shopkeepers and partners, the strong Henri and his older mate, Asad, of Somali origin with a bad case of asthma lending a little poignancy to the mix.
The Music of the night.
Part of the story dwells on the music that helps Isabel cope with the harsher daily life that would have any woman weeping with first losing her husband and then waiting months to have a simple thing like a bath installed. Anyone who has ever had work done in his or her home and had to cope with workmen not keeping to deadlines will know how the character feels. Isabel plays her violin to soothe her soul and to let her feelings out. The echoes of this disturb and enchant the other villagers in different ways. I felt this was a way to understand her character further, after all, she has known no different life than this.
There is also the night sound, the disturbing noises of the countryside, the harsher ways of nature where animals are part of the nightlife and become a part of the landscape. Taking this further, the darker side of human nature is given free reign in the book and although it's not a thriller there are some scary elements to the story.
This is meant to be a story about a woman coming to terms with grief and learning to find her feet in a world she knows nothing about. It's also a love story but the ending might surprise readers who probably, like me, will be surprised at the outcome. I certainly didn't see it coming. I thought it was a good story and couldn't be classed as a romance although it's in that genre. I thought it more like chick-lit for the older age group, though the characters are mainly mid-thirties to early forties.
For me it was a nice change to my normal reading and quite a classy book with some lovely imagery as well as some nicely developed characters. It's not a book that will keep you up to finish it, but it has a charm of it's own that will sneak up on you, as it did on me.
Mine was a library book; I'm not buying much at the moment so near to Xmas. Think this would make a nice gift for a mum or even a gran, I felt it suited my age group better than normal chick-lit. Amazon sell it for £5.59 new and £4.49 for a Kindle book. As usual it can be bought used from 1p plus postage.
Thanks for reading.
©Lisa Fuller. 2011.
Isabel Delancy is a gifted violinist. Although married with children she has pursued her career with little thought to her husband at home and her two children under the care of a nanny. Suddenly, following the tragic death of her husband her life is changed for ever and she has to start living a different life from the one she envisaged.
I was looking forward to reading this book as it sounded an entertaining enough light read. I read a variety of genre and although this may be classed as a typical Aga-saga I didn't really have any pre-conceptions about the content.
The riches to rags theme has been written in so many books that I feel it has to be something special now for it to work. It seemed so predictable from when we first met Isabel that she was going to be a virtually penniless widow, penniless that is except for her beloved violin which was worth a six-figure sum. The teenage daughter had to take control of the family's situation whilst her hapless mother offered no support and who seemed incapable of the simplest of tasks as she had led such a cosseted life.
The family moved to the country and there the author introduced another set of unbelievable characters. Byron, the mis-understood, obviously rather hunky but private game-keeper/handyman. Matt, the selfish, appearance-obsessed local builder and Casanova. Henry and Asad, the two "cousins" who owned the local shop who happened to be gay as well as from an ethnic minority and Laura, Matt's long-suffering wife.
I think I often enjoy a book better when I have a degree of empathy with the main character. I failed to feel anything for Isabel except intense irritation. I really found it hard to believe that she would rather move her family to a ramshackle house in the country with no idea of how they were going to live and to her children's great distress rather than sell her violin to secure their future. I disliked the fact that she was so gullible all of the time and that she didn't seem overly concerned that her son hadn't uttered a word since the death of his father. As a parent myself that would cause me great distress and I would certainly be seeking help.
I found I disliked other characters too. Matt was obviously supposed to be the baddy but there were so many other people around him that could have been speaking out and I am sure that really people would not all stand behind a wide-boy in that way. In small communities cowboy builders are soon ousted and move into more populated areas where their clients do not know one another. Since there only appeared to be about 10 people living in this village I am sure he would have been out of work years ago.
I found that the characters were just not well written. There were very two-dimensional and almost felt like caricatures. I really didn't care what happened to any of them, I think the only person I was interested in was Thierry, Isabels much ignored son.
When I first started reading the book I felt that it was very predictable. I must admit that the story didn't follow exactly the line I predicted and that is always good. However I felt that the twists were still not interesting enough for me to sit up and take notice. I find it difficult to put my finger on exactly why the story just didn't pull together for me but I think it just felt too contrived. Someone stumbled across a house by taking a wrong turning, unexpected items were found at opportune moments and people seemed unable to see things that surely would have been as clear as day.
I think the best word I could use for this book is frustrating. I think I found the whole thing generally predictable and there was nothing new or fresh about the storyline or the characters. Reading it passed a few hours but I was getting so irritated with the main character in particular that I found I wasn't really enjoying it. I read it to the end as I was hoping that it would get better. I must admit that I do think it improved slightly towards the end but I certainly wouldn't be keen to read it again. If I am going to read Aga-saga then I want it to be more comforting and less annoying so that I can sit back and dream of cosy kitchens and romantic encounters amongst the middle-classes without wanting to take the main character by the shoulders and give her a good shake!
This book certainly ticks all the boxes for the 'aga saga' genre of fiction book - a family saga - tick, middle class country village living - tick, illicit rumpy, pumpy in the countryside (observer 2007) - tick, thatched English village - tick, sprawling untidy farmhouse with flagstones, wellington boots, and much nursing of mugs of coffee (Laura Wilson, Guardian critic)- tick. Sometimes this type of book is not looked on too favourably by critics, but every so often a good easy reading bit of country romance is just what I feel like. The quote on the cover from Marie Claire says 'The perfect summer read'. Well, I would have to add that it is also pretty good for cosying down with on a freezing cold winter day. I only wish I had the aga or a roaring open fire to sit by while absorbed in this tale of misfortune and romance.
The picture on the cover represents Isabel, the main character in the book. Isabel is a concert violinist who has not had a care in the world. The simple cover shows her in her elegant dressing gown peering out through the curtains in a luxurious room with a chandelier. At the start of the book she has just been widowed and has been left in debt and forced to sell up their London home. Conveniently she has been left an old tumbledown property in Norfolk by a long lost relative, and she moves there with her two children.
Other characters are Matt and Laura, her nearest neighbours, who unbeknown to Isabel had been helping out old Mr Pottisworth in the hope of taking over his big old 'Spanish House' by the lake when he died. Matt is a builder and 'helps', or not helps as the case may be, Isabel to try and make the house more habitable. Byron, is the old country estate manager of Mr Pottisworth, who comes to the rescue of just about everybody. Kitty is the ultra sensible daughter, Thierry, the disturbed son and there are numerous locals, notably the gay shop keepers who seem to be the centre of all things within the village.
I found Isabel's character infuriating; she is so naive and I found parts of the plot unbelievable. I just couldn't believe that she could be so stupid. She does improve as the story unfolds and even gets her previously immaculate hands dirty when she tries a bit of self sufficiency gardening. The other characters are all more realistic. That's as much as I'm going to say about the storyline or the cast as I think that there is nothing worse than knowing too much about a book before you read it.
I was going to rate the book a 3 star because I thought all the way through that I could predict what the outcome would be. But I was wrong! And for that reason I am giving it a 4 star. I am always so pleased when there is an unexpected twist in a book. All in all it was an easy to read, relaxing book that I did enjoy, but the subject matter was not overly inspired or original. I would recommend reading it if you like aga sagas and would like a non challenging relaxing read. The recommended retail price is £6.99, although it can be found cheaper.