A delightful debut… just captivating (4.5 stars)
Source- review copy
Published by Bloomsbury USA. Due for release on April 2nd, 2013
I read the Kindle version. The paperback edition is 224 pages.
I must confess that I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of this novel at first. The pace seemed uber-slow with not a whole lot actually happening; it was definitely more character than plot driven and I must confess that I found myself wondering where the author was going with it at more than one point. However, I couldn’t help myself and fell utterly in love with Pea, this books child narrator, which is something I’m really glad about as it encouraged me to keep reading and in the end this proved to be a truly beguiling story.
Set during a hot summer in France, we are introduced to five and a half year old Pivione (Peony), and her little sister Margot who live with their widowed English mother in a farm house following the death of their French father a few months earlier. Pea’s Maman is heavily pregnant and struggles in their isolated home, swamped still by the grief of losing her partner. A somewhat neglected Pea desperately tries her best to help her mother, yet nothing she does makes her happy or pulls her out of her sorrow. This is a story of grief, love and redemption, as seen through the eyes of a little girl who proves to have a very powerful imagination.
I loved the vibrant, rich tones of Claire King’s writing. Her descriptions of the sights and surroundings of the French countryside were incredibly vivid and she really managed to capture Pea’s voice in a believable fashion that was neither irritating nor too ‘cutesy.’ Even Pea’s thoughts felt realistic- with that endearing fairytale like quality that little girls sometimes have. This was a really magical story in places; I loved Pea’s reasoning that a four leafed clover would be enough to grant her wishes and her belief in fairy gardens. It all felt incredibly authentic.
At times this book felt really old-fashioned too, which was something I hadn’t been expecting; I’m not sure why this was the case. It was maybe to do with the hot summer and the languid pace of the narrative that symbolised that, or possibly it was just Pea and Margot’s old-fashioned games that they played in the tree house or by the stream- no X-boxes or rollerblades in sight! Following these more traditional tones, in the next sentence the internet or wind turbines would be mentioned and I would be pulled quickly back to the present again. It was somewhat jarring, but oddly charming at the same time. It actually reminded me a bit of ‘Chocolat’ by Joanne Harris in that sense, another book that I really loved.
I also sometimes struggle with a lack of speech marks in stories (‘The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake’ springs to mind here) and I can find it a bit weird and pointless to leave them out; in this instance however I can genuinely say that the lack of speech marks did not bother me one iota. Possibly because it was being narrated by such a sweet, adorable child? Or maybe it was just because the rest of the book’s formatting was so ‘off’ that I didn’t notice it in comparison!
Indeed, on the negative side, I do have to concede that some of my enjoyment of this novel was initially hampered by the absolutely *terrible* review copy that I received; whose formatting was shot with abundant missing letters from words and had a really terrible layout (sadly this seems to be a bit of a common problem in some editions I have received from Netgalley. Not sure how many other reviewers have this problem…).
Formatting issues aside, which does not bear any reflection on this lovely little story itself of course, I would happily recommend this book to readers interested in contemporary fiction or family dramas; this was a beautifully written tale with a shocker of a twist that I definitely did not anticipate- just brilliantly done. I would be keen to read more from Claire King in future- if this book is anything to go by then she is certainly going to be a powerful new voice in women’s fiction.