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Review: When It All Went To Custard by Danielle Hawkins

on May 15, 2019

When It All Went To Custard
Danielle Hawkins
Harper Collins AUS
2019, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Odds of saving marriage – slim. Farming expertise – patchy. Chances that it’ll all be okay in the end – actually pretty good …

I wasn’t enjoying the afternoon of 23 February even before I learnt that my husband was having an affair …

The news of her husband’s infidelity comes as a nasty shock to Jenny Reynolds, part-time building control officer and full-time mother – even though, to her surprise and embarrassment, her first reaction is relief, not anguish. What really hurts is her children’s unhappiness at the break-up, and the growing realisation that, alone, she may lose the family farm.

This is the story of the year after Jenny’s old life falls apart; of family and farming, pet lambs and geriatric dogs, choko-bearing tenants and Springsteen-esque neighbours. And of just perhaps a second chance at happiness.

In recent years, Danielle Hawkins has become one of my favourite contemporary authors. I love her rural stories set in New Zealand – Chocolate Cake For Breakfast is one of my favourite books. And I’ve enjoyed all her others too so I was really excited to discover that she had a new book releasing! I actually didn’t know about it until it just before it’s release so I was super pleased to receive a copy and be able to get stuck straight in.

It’s not a good day for Jenny when her neighbour comes to her and admits that he caught her husband with his wife. Jenny and her husband lease land from her parents to farm but it’s barely keeping their heads above water and Jenny also works a couple of days a week in town as a building control officer. When she separates from her husband, he leaves the farm which means that Jenny has to juggle even more. They have two young children as well, with Jenny doing the bulk of the caregiving.

Sometimes I feel like rural fiction can occasionally romanticise farming life – this book does not really do that. Jenny and her husband don’t own the land, it’s something her family owns and they lease part of it from them in order to farm. It’s Jenny’s dream to make this land work, with the plan being that they would buy her parents out eventually and own and farm themselves. The land however, has dramatically increased in value since her parents purchased it and there are big corporate style buyers with offers sniffing around. Jenny is pulled in so many different directions: the farm doesn’t really make a lot of money and it’s possible that the person who works for them has been skimping on his duties, her children are struggling with the marriage break up and the fact that their parents now live apart and they split their time between them, her job comes with its own challenges and her family and ex-husband are constant sources of frustration. There were times reading this that I felt my own stress levels rising (usually after Jenny had had a conversation with her freeloading lodger, ex-husband and/or her sister, both of whom I found to be frustrating characters. Particularly the ex-husband who is a narcissistic gaslighter). I don’t know how Jenny managed to keep her cool in so many situations – perhaps she has just learned to not rise. I would certainly have risen to the bait being dangled many times.

I really enjoyed Jenny’s interactions with Andrew, the neighbour who farms the property adjacent to hers (and who caught her husband in bed with his wife). Andrew is patient and thoughtful, a bit of a quiet type and Jenny finds herself suddenly spending more and more time with him. Sometimes the ways in which they interact are awkward and embarrassing and Jenny I think has been so beaten down by her relationship with her ex-husband that she’s not sure how to put herself out there anymore, how to open herself up to the possibility of something new. It’s a thing she has to learn, to quell that instinct to dampen herself down. It makes her very skittish about moving forward and I get it – it’s good to take things slowly, to wait until you’re sure, especially when there are young children involved. But in Jenny’s case, she’s kind of treading water and not even considering the future, which makes things quite difficult for someone who wants to make a future with her! Jenny has to realise a few things and undergo a bit of growth in order to really move forward and she also has to compromise on a few things as well as kind of put her pride aside and take the leap.

Danielle Hawkins’ books always provide me with a little bit of everything – there are lots of funny moments in here, but it also really thoughtfully and seriously explores the breakdown of a marriage, the separation of a partnership, single and co-parenting, negotiating an ex’s new relationship, starting a new one yourself, farming difficulties, the struggle to remain a family farm and small community life. I was a big fan of the romantic interest in this one, he’s my sort exactly!

Another super fantastic read here, now I begin the wait until the next one.

8/10

Book #69 of 2019

 

 

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2 responses to “Review: When It All Went To Custard by Danielle Hawkins

  1. Criss says:

    I’d give this book 9/10. It seemed tighter structurally and generally more accomplished than her other novels (which I also loved). The way she depicted the young children was particularly impressive. I beg to differ on the timeline for her changing. The novel is set within 12 months exactly and I’d imagine that the shock of discovering who your husband actually is would take a considerable amount of time. Resisting his attempts to ‘get her back’ had me holding my breath. Overall, I interpreted her as pretty tough and insightful – well able to see through people, albeit while strenuously attempting to remain polite. Her relationship with her parents was well described too. She is gifted at describing the ways in which people annoy and frustrate one another and how key self-interest is in human relationships. I too can’t wait for her next book.

    • To be honest, the timeline for her changing didn’t actually bother me – I just stated it was something she had to learn because her ex-husband had treated her so badly that to put herself out there for someone else was going to be difficult. I don’t think it felt unrealistic or like the timeline for it wasn’t correct at all.

      I agree that she portrays frustrations very well. Some of the interactions had me fuming because I just wanted to go into bat for Jenny!

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