The First WifeEmily Barr's 10th novel scored a hit with me, although she sent me her book in May 2011 and I've only just got round to reviewing it. In the meantime, I'd read it twice, enjoyed it both times, wrestled with a new computer, had a car crash, whiplash, euthanized my wonderful 22-year-old ginger tom Harry, been hospitalised and came out more damaged than I went in, lost my sister, my partner and went into withdrawal after coming off some medication too fast on the doctor's instructions. I think that's all, apart from the resulting adrenal exhaustion, and not that I'm making excuses for not reviewing Emily's lovely novel (not to mention the rest on the pile) but I'm amazed that so many people are still following my blog.
So a big thank you to followers and to celebrate, I've chosen Emily's novel to get me back in harness.
Eccentric backgroundEight-year-old Lily Button goes to live with her eccentric grandparents in a Cornish village cottage. She takes care of them as they age but when they die, Lily, now aged 20 inherits their £300,000 house and sets out to experience life.
She lodges with a family, which is a bit of a squash but after the sale of Lily's cottage, she is left with huge debts and penniless. She sleeps in the garden shed until CAB help her sort out her finances. She intends to go to university but begins her new life as a cleaner.
Lily ends up cleaning the house of Harry and Sarah Summer, a house 'in need of a clean'. She gradually forms an attachment to Harry, who acted in a TV soap opera for five years until, aged 30, he married, moved to Cornwall and returned to his job as a lawyer. Lily falls in love with the three-storey, five-bedroomed house and decides to read law at uni once she's acquired two A-levels.
It was easy to follow this protagonist's journey for she has a strong spirit and is rarely fazed out with the deal that fate has dealt her, despite her vulnerability and innocence. I had no problems rooting for her but I did have a problem putting the book down.
Mature writingEmily has a mature writing style, which flows well and draws you in so you feel you are an observer in her 'scenes'. Her descriptions are full of fine detail and her characters are three-dimensional and original.
She develops a strong sense of place in Cornwall with the sea and the gulls, never clichéd and you can smell the ozone, for she writes with her senses. The plot moves forwards constantly, it's full of action and 'showing', flowing and maintaining reader attention. She isn't one of those authors who start with a bang and finish with a flourish but get hopelessly lost in the middle with nothing happening. It's one thing to have a great idea but another to have the creative ability to fill a novel with intrigue and action. Emily Barr does it with no effort.
Sub-plot weaves its way throughThere's a sub-plot going on in New Zealand when Jack Baker, en route to a ski lodge to fix a hot tub, hits a sheep in his truck and injures his ribs. We dip back and forth from New Zealand to Cornwall, while Jack is ever moving towards Lily and we switch between her first person narrative and the author's point of view in Queenstown. This could have been pretty tricky but Emily handles it well and the story never lacks clarity.
It would be unfair to reveal more of this intriguing plot. It contains more fascinating characters, twists and turns and reversals, leading to Lily vacillating like crazy with her trust in Harry and a flavour of Daphne du Maurier between its covers. All I will say is that 'the first wife' in question is Sarah Summer.
Later workEmily has been busy while I've been skiving and her following books are 'Stranded', another intriguing read, set in Malaysia and 'The Sleeper', set in Cornwall.
On 26 April, she's running a workshop in writing great dialogue at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival and on 1-3 May, she's running a writing workshop in Falmouth, Cornwall.
You can learn more about Emily and her books at www.emilybarr.com/ 'The First Wife' is published by Headline Review.