Dysfunctional relationships have been a staple of Jane Feaver's previous work. Her debut novel, According to Ruth, centred on a girl's view of her parents' disintegrating marriage, and Love Me Tender, glimpsed the private lives of inhabitants of a Devon village. Feaver is adroit at capturing claustrophobia and community, with the wistful lives of those seeking salvation in others.
For her third book, Feaver returns to Devon. The section headings, poem titles by Larkin, Heaney, Milton, Blake and Pound, hint at the hopes and longing explored in this novel. Events flit between contemporary times and the postwar decades. The sections set in the present are narrated by 70-year-old Mavis, who lives in a cottage to which she was evacuated during the Second World War.
Having returned to her parents in London aged seven, Mavis moved back when aged 25. Her settled routine is ruffled by the arrival of a single mother, Eve, who is linked to someone she knew in the village decades previously. Through flashbacks, the fragile web that binds the past and present is dismantled strand by strand. Tragedy lurks in the past.
Feaver's speciality is capturing the exquisite pain of spurned love with a sensitivity that manages to be understated yet anguished. When young Mavis falls for a married man, "in a second I was annihilated, the creamy blossoms scorched brown, rotted on the bough". Later, asked to a dance by a man she has had a crush on, she waits with heart-fluttering expectation, and is euphoric when her date turns up, but at the door of the dance, as he heads off alone, "in a flash I realised that he was going to abandon me".
Yet there is also mordant humour aplenty. A gormless man "had an oily fringe and very large lips, apparently too heavy to open". The moment before alcohol-induced vomiting is captured expertly: "There was custard in my mouth. I could feel the weight of the liquid I carried, like one of those tribeswomen with a pitcher on her head." Accomplished in every way, this novel is a true delight.
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