I spent a lovely escapist couple of days reading about this interesting family of women all at a crossroads in life. Julia, great-grandmother and owner of the beautiful Wisteria House in the village of Rushbrook, has died. She has left behind four generations of women: grandmother Cherry who was a model in the 1960’s; mother Maggie, the redoubtable owner of a food PR company; daughter Rose who is a new mum and volunteers at the local homeless charity; finally there’s Gertie, three years old and the apple of everyone’s eye. Aside from great-grandmother Julia’s death and Gertie’s birth, this is a family facing a lot of change. Maggie is still mourning the death of the love of her life, husband Frank. It’s been a couple of years now, but both Maggie and Rose miss him every day. Maggie also faces change at work, as her apprentice has absconded taking some of the business with her. Rose has struggled with grief, but her job is giving her more confidence even though she cares and gets involved more than she should. Cherry is organising a party to celebrate her husband’s retirement, something she’s very good at. Mike is an artist and photographer, retiring from teaching and looking forward to spending more time travelling with Cherry. They just need to finish the sale of Cherry’s childhood home at Wisteria House, but Cherry sees something at the party that changes her mind and sets in place a new plan for all the women of the family.
The Swan is Rushbrook’s public house and has been a family haunt for as long as they can remember, from Cherry’s teens to recent family celebrations with her mother. In fact, even though they live in Avonminster, this village is very important to the women. Rose was particularly close with her great-grandmother and when she’s feeling anxious closes her eyes and imagines the smells of the roses in her garden. In fact Gertie is even named after two of her favourite roses from the garden at Wisteria House. The Swan has become run down since the landlord’s wife has been ill and on an impromptu visit he tells Cherry he’s going to sell The Swan. Cherry has just completed on Wisteria House and partly because of Mike’s party, but also because she wants to take on a project for herself, she buys the pub on impulse. She knows she can make it work, but what will Mike think? Also, how will she do this on her own? With both Maggie and Rose at a crossroads too, they decide to help and all three women uproot themselves and move to the boathouse behind the pub. Soon all three are busy: Cherry with the refurb; Maggie in the kitchens; Rose in the gardens. Can this team of women make The Swan a success?
I found this book a delight from start to finish, so uplifting and full of formidable female characters. Cherry is a ray of sunshine and I enjoyed going back to the 1960’s to her meeting with Mike. They’re a lovely couple who have been devoted to each other for years, but as they both face changes and keep secrets from one another, they might be looking at a different relationship going forward. Maggie is a force of nature, hard working and full of ideas for the menu. She’s also coping with complicated feelings, that pull between missing the person you’ve lost while also becoming excited about moving forward with your life. She’s attractive and dynamic so isn’t short of attention from men, but finds dipping her toe in the water more complicated than she expected. I loved Rose, she has such a big heart and is stronger than she imagines. Her move to Rushbrook is something of an escape from overstepping the boundaries with a homeless client. Rose’s story arc is uplifting and joyful, especially her struggles to understand anxiety and live with her negative inner voice. She also has a tiny hint of romance for good measure.
One of the most powerful aspects of this novel is the inter generational relationships, so it was interesting to read this alongside my Mum. These women are wonderfully open with each other, they give each other support both emotionally and to succeed in life. Their support for Rose as she becomes a young single mum is crucial to Gertie being the carefree little soul she is. I know this because my parents, especially my Mum, did the same for my brother as he became a father at 17. I know that the way my mum helped bring up my niece and nephew, has been the inspiration and example for my niece now that she’s an incredible mum to two small boys. People think it’s instinctive, but I can see both my parents in the way she plays with her boys and encourages their development. We are in the lucky position of having four generation of family and I love seeing my dad playing football with his great-grandsons.
I have a similar, very open relationship with my mum and now I’m older we really are friends. People are often surprised when I say my parents would be the first names I’d put on any party list and my mum comes to my book club, workshops and we go to meditation together. Then I sit back and watch how she nurtures the younger members of these groups, particularly those who struggle with depression or social anxieties. In the same way, I enjoyed reading about the effects these women have on the residents of the village, particularly the lovely Chloe. They provide work for some, start unexpected friendships with others and give the inspiration for some to make changes of their own. They really are a force for good and I was hoping they could make the pub a success, that it would become a community hub for the village and that Cherry and Mike would find a way to assimilate The Swan into their relationship. These relationships are underpinned by an incredibly picturesque village, wonderful descriptions of interior designs and stunning gardens that feed all the senses. This is a gem of a book, full of hope and with a great sense of fun. I loved reading and discussing it with my mum too. I found myself smiling all the way through and at the end I felt like I’d been on a lovely weekend away.
Meet The Author
Veronica Henry has worked as a scriptwriter for
The Archers, Heartbeat and Holby City amongst many others, before turning to fiction. She won the 2014 RNA Novel of the Year Award for A Night on the Orient Express and is a Sunday Times bestselling author of over twenty books. Veronica lives with her family in a village in north Devon and can often be found
cooking up the perfect seaside feast.
Find out more at veronicahenry.co.uk or follow her on social media:
@veronica_henry @veronicahenryauthor @veronicahenryauthor