Over a year ago, when I was still in love with my new career move and as a result the commute I have to deal with wasn't destroying my passion for life itself, I used to pass the time on the train with a book. Problem was, over a few house moves and trying to keep my life as movable as possible when your sole means of transportation was a 206cc, I had to shed a lot of books over that time. So I needed some new ones and money was tight, so off to the charity shops I went. I spotted Pastures Nouveaux by Wendy Holden
I had read one Wendy Holden book before and I recalled enjoying her style of writing. One thing that stuck in my memory was her characters, whilst being quite over the top, were tongue in cheek, her protagonists likeable and also they were all prone to sharp one-liners born out of sarcasm, which suits my sense of humour down to a T (in the case of this book, Mark's asides are a good case in point). Her humour also presents itself through the stupidity of her less likable main characters - an incident involving the Lady Avon in Pastures Nouveaux is another example. So this book came to its second home with me and I started reading it on the train.
Well the plot explains why I reread this recently. As I said, I was commuting to a new role in London and was pleased with the way my career was going. However, I have always been a country girl at heart which is why I refused to move to the capital and kept my home in the Midlands. In this book our heroine, Rosie, is a frustrated and broke illustrator who dreams of moving out of the smog and hell that is London (and it is) and bolting for the green grass of the countryside. Fast forward a year in my own life and I am dreaming of a smallholding in the West Country, so you can see where my empathy was coming from!
Rosie's problem is her boyfriend, Mark. Journalist and ambitionist, he won't entertain the idea. Gorgeous and opinionated, Rosie adores him but keeps harbouring her dream even though Mark is completely against it. Of course, we can see Mark without Rosie's tinted glasses and his stubborn dislike of her perfect London friend Bella and her dinner party crowd makes him seem pretty difficult and unlikeable to start with.
Suddenly, Mark has a change of heart. Written when "downsizing" was all the rage, our heroine's other half is offered what he wanted all along - his own column, replacing that of the writer he couldn't stand. But his editor has told him that the subject matter needs to be about someone moving to the countryside. So Rosie gets what she wanted and the search for the perfect cottage begins.
Of course, with half of London trying to find their country retreat, prices were going up and Rosie and Mark struggled to find anything they could afford. Then they stumble across a cottage in Eight Mile Bottom - it has a hole in the ceiling and is about to fall down around them, but its all they can afford and Rosie falls in love instantly. The move is on, but country life holds some surprises for Rosie. Stumbling across someone she had the misfortune to meet in London who also suddenly decided the country lifestyle was the only way forward was one, whilst meeting a lonely but angry handsome farmer was entirely different - and finally seeing Mark as the person he really was as his frustrations arise from professional issues to liberal neighbours only adds to the mix.
Throw in a great but gentle send up of country humour (the book to my mind is far more critical of London types rather than running down the rural inhabitants, instead crediting them with sly humour and a good approach to life) and if that all wasn't enough then you have the mystery of a reclusive rock star, ghosts at The Bottoms and the party of the year. Rosie thought she was moving for a quiet, gentle lifestyle with her beloved Mark but things are very different once you get out of the city.
Okay, for all this is unashamedly just chick-lit comedy circa pre-50 Shades, I liked this. I must have, because I rarely read chick lit and I not only bought this after reading one of Wendy Holden's books years previously but I kept it. Holden has a gift for writing characters that, in the case of the protagonists you are meant to like, are believable and genuine. Her other, less likeable characters are well written for comedy value and her supporting cast are both well created given their shorter time in focus but also likeable and amusing. The sharp, sly comedy raises a smile regularly and you do root for Rosie to find happiness, realise her boyfriend is a plank and move on. She seems genuinely written and as such you can support her in enjoying the countryside lifestyle while Mark seems oblivious to the charms and humour despite being there primarily to observe it.
Holden also uses a technique of writing that I like in that she brings back old characters from former books. In this case there's a cameo towards the end from a nightmare socialite who is one of Holden's more over-the-top characters but again that bold character writing adds to the story Holden is trying to tell.
I do have a criticism of this book which I recalled when I started but upon rereading, whilst it still stands, it was lessened. Unfortunately, it is very hard to articulate it without ruining the reading experience for someone else who might like to take up a copy of this book! It has to do with the layout of the plot, and it is a person opinion and may not apply to others.
In short, if you like almost sly, sharp humour and well-written characters and are in the market for a light-reading, enjoyable comedy then this could well be good for you. Holden has written a nice book here and it distracted me when I needed it to and I felt compelled to continue reading it rather than feeling I had to - its rare that I enjoy a chick lit novel but this was good fun and I recommend it.
For Wendy Holden fans this is a must. It is a light hearted, entertaining and frequently witty read.
The tale is on a contemporary theme - abandoning the stress of the city for a life of simple pleasures in the countryside. Rosie can't believe her luck when her boyfriend agrees to the move and what follows is a foray into village life with all the eccentric characters you'd expect to bump into in a sitcom setting; a reclusive rock star, a family of ageing hippys and a image obsessed, out of work actress.
The tale unfolds in a series of hilarious scenes at a pace that allows you to get to know the characters and all their flaws. Wit is carefully balanced with pathos to engage the reader in Rosie's struggle to achieve her dreams of fulfillment in the country idyll she has set her heart on. It's not the typical boy meets girl romance and there are some interesting twists along the way.
The book may not achieve literary fame but it's a good holiday read when you simply want to get lost in a story.
From SW7 to rural heaven... Cash-strapped Rosie and her boyfriend Mark are city folk longing for a country cottage. Rampantly nouveaux-riches Samantha and Guy are also searching for rustic bliss - a mansion complete with mile-long drive and hot and cold running gardeners. The village of Eight Mile Bottom seems quiet enough, despite a nosy postman, a reclusive rock star, a glamorous Bond Girl and a ghost with a knife in its back. But there are unexpected thrills in the hills.