House For All Seasons
Jenn J McLeod
Simon & Schuster AU
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Four friends who have barely spoken to each other in twenty years are left a hundred year old house that they spent time at during their childhood. Situated in their hometown of Calingarry Crossing, the terms of the will state that each woman must spend a season there in order to fulfill the terms of the inheritance. Each of the women have varying feelings about returning to spend time in the house, from downright refusal to eagerness. Returning means confronting demons for all of them, including what happened during their muck up day celebrations, so many years ago.
Sara is first. A breast cancer survivor, she’s had one man run out on her when she was at her lowest. Returning to the Dandelion House gives her an opportunity to make amends for things she’s done wrong in the past and it gives her a chance to rekindle her friendship with Will, someone Sara has always loved. But Sara is afraid to love now, love is not on The List.
Poppy is a journalist, up for a Walkley award after a stint overseas reporting on the war in Afghanistan. No matter how successful she is, what she does, all that matters to her is the approval of her distant father Johnno, damaged from what he saw overseas in his own war, Vietnam.
Amber was a spoiled and cosseted teenager, the apple of her charismatic father’s eye. When a youthful indiscretion meant that Amber should probably leave Calingarry Crossing, her father arranged everything. Twenty years later Amber is an over-Botoxed socialite desperately tired of the charity lunch game. The return to Calingarry Crossing gives her a chance to face what her childhood really was and make amends with someone she has long done without in her life.
Caitlin is looking to give something back to the small community, the way her respected doctor father did. Taking over the local practice while she’s spending her required season in the house, Caitlin is about to uncover a well kept secret that will bind the 4 girls even more tightly together…and give them the strength they need to decide what to do with their legacy.
I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time now. Following authors and publishers on twitter means you hear about things often long before they arrive and the wait can sometimes feel like forever. You hear details of books going through drafts, edits, etc. It’s much different to when you just walk into a bookshop and see whatever happens to be on the shelf, published already.
From the inside out, this book is beautiful. From the very beginning, when we meet our four women as adults in their mid-to-late thirties, you know that something has happened to make them no longer friends. It isn’t just that their lives have changed and grown, they’re all carrying feelings connected to their hometown that have made them want to forget. Gypsy, the former owner of the house has used their connections to it in order to bring them back and make them face what happened in the town twenty years ago and also help them assess their lives and what they really want and need. Each one of them is dealing with something, or many things. Alone (with no contact with each other during their season ‘stay’) they each have no choice but to really examine themselves and their lives.
Each of the women are very different, some were harder to connect to than others but I found that I had little trouble immersing myself in their lives. Sara, the first to spend time in the house, was easy to like but it wasn’t hard to see just how much of herself she was holding back, scared to fall in love again after her husband betrayed her and left her when she was most vulnerable. I liked her blossoming friendship with Will, a man who had also been dealt numerous blows as well. I loved the way that Will was portrayed, a man who was trying to make the most of his situation, but sometimes exhausted by the effort it took. The optimism and frustration was very well done.
I didn’t love Amber at first, but I think she’s the character who experiences the most personal growth. I think her journey was the one that touched me the most, even though I didn’t relate to her as such. We have nothing in common and she wasn’t entirely likable but watching this Sydney Potts Point lady who lunches settle back in to a quiet country town and realise that the woman she saw in the mirror for twenty years wasn’t really her was fascinating. The only thing about that storyline that did have me raising an eyebrow was the forty year old surgeon who wanted to marry a seventeen year old girl. That was a bit weird, even if I did like the character of her husband. But it was probably weirder that Amber’s father agreed to it. In some ways I found Poppy’s story similar to Amber’s – Poppy was also being someone that she didn’t realise wasn’t really her and a lot of her issues were all hung up on someone she had a difficult relationship with. In order for both Poppy and Amber to become the people they really were inside, they had to obtain some sort of closure or reconnection with the parent relationship and allow themselves to move forward in a new way. Caitlin was probably the only one that didn’t seem to be undergoing the same amount of emotional upheaval as the other three and her story felt much shorter and not quite as intense as the stories of the others. Her stay though, was crucial as it was the way in which the secrets were uncovered.
I really enjoyed this book – I read it in less than a day. It kept me turning the pages, drawn into the journey of these four women and their guilt and sadness over what had happened twenty years ago. It’s beautifully written, a story that sweeps you in and holds you there. There’s a little bit of magic in this one.
Book #45 of 2013
House For All Seasons is book #22 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge