RURAL RIDES : Pick of the week; The Sunlight on the Garden by Fanny Frewen

English village life provides the backdrop for three new novels this month, its enclosed nature a foil for dramas ranging from the romantic and fanciful to the darkly claustrophobic and exquisitely subtle.

Sue Prideaux's debut, Rude Mechanicals (Abacus, pounds 8.99), is an odd concoction of black humour, cool irony and sentimentality. Lucy and Peter Skeffington are a gentrified couple approaching middle age by means of a growing communication gap. This polite rift centres upon Peter's unspoken desire for, and Lucy's instinctive resistance to, the adoption of Danny, inmate of a highly improbable local home for young offenders. So hellish is this place, with its repulsive "guardian" and his sadistic henchman, so innocent is Danny, with his Oliver Twist air and wistful questions ("where does the wind come from?"), that we are reminded of Dickens. The comparison is compounded by the fanciful nature of the characters playing out their interlinked dramas around the central axis. The vicar's crook-backed companion obsesses over animal rights, whispering mantra-like his favourite word ("utensil utensil") to calm his nerves. The garage owner is a religious maniac who insists on all family names being drawn from the Bible, and whose granddaughters are called Jezebel and Salome.

For the most part, Sue Prideaux juggles her extensive cast with skill; her dry, at times acrid, humour and sudden glimpses of the pit balance the full-blown romance of Danny, the pure soul adrift in an evil world.

Romance of a more traditional kind is on offer in Katie Fforde's Stately Pursuits (Michael Joseph, pounds 9.99). When Hetty Longden goes to house-sit great-uncle Samuel's crumbling stately home she finds herself drawn into a fight to save the old house from the philistine plans of Samuel's heir, who wants to sell the site to developers. Unlike Prideaux's grotesques, these villagers are a friendly bunch. Mrs Hemstead, formidable matriarch with a heart of gold, makes damson wine and is a dead ringer for Miss Hubbard in Postman Pat. The local Brownie pack leader has the looks of a supermodel and, conveniently, a SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy) lives only a dog's walk away.

Will Hetty succumb to his "perfect son-in-law" charms? Or will she fall for dreaded heir Connor Barrabin, dubbed by the villagers Conan the Barbarian? The midnight arrival of this craggy, bear-like man and his subsequent enforced cohabitation with Hetty herald a prolonged drama of barbed sparring, spiced with sexual chemistry. This lacks entirely the element of tension, as, from the moment we discover that for all his taciturn rumblings he's a dab hand in the kitchen, it's a foregone conclusion that she'll end up in his masterful but sensitive embrace.

The fictional village of Swanmere in Fanny Frewen's The Sunlight on the Garden (Century, pounds 15.99) is an altogether more believable place inhabited by believable people. Gentle, kindly Marion, whose childless state is her enduring regret, has been married for 20 years to Jeremy, who commutes to a willing mistress and a good job in the City. Marion keeps an immaculate house and throws perfect, elegant dinner parties. She has, however, a retreat, her "strange place": a wild garden below the proper garden, where growth runs unchecked. Only the children of her neighbours, the Fenbys, had shared this with her throughout their childhood. When an anniversary party brings the four grown children back to Swanmere, the scene is set for a poignant drama of infidelity, reconciliation and acceptance. Peter, the eldest Fenby son, unhappily drifting into a loveless marriage, embarks on an affair with Marion. Totally infatuated and quietly desperate, he watches the inexorable process of his own wedding plan as if it were a natural phenomenon beyond his control. When Marion becomes pregnant, having taken her own infertility for granted for three years, she allows her husband to believe the child is his. The two draw closer, reaffirming their marriage.

Truth breaks through, however, in an unexpected and moving way. Fanny Frewen's clear, dispassionate prose never falters, its restraint adding depth and dignity to the moments of passion and pain. Situations and characters are complex, nothing is predictable and Frewen eschews the easy options of fictional convention to create a sense of the real messiness of life. She celebrates the value of compromise and the courage ordinary people find within themselves to survive and find meaning in situations that are less than perfect.

She has been called "the new Mary Wesley" but the comparison seems to be based on little more than generational factors. Fanny Frewen has her own individual voice.

Arts and Entertainment Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'