To describe this touching, well-written novel as an Aga saga is to demean it somewhat.
True it does chronicle the quintessential Aga-esque life of middle-class English people in a pretty village, where only one villager is actually a working farmer and everyone else is living the countryside dream.
But there is an edginess to the world Nicholson writes so well about, which troubles the otherwise placid, picturesque surface.
Laura is happily married, with 2 children she adores, to Henry, but after so many years, she is a tad bored, a tad on auto-pilot, while she negotiates the tricky waters of his pride and her parents’ money, that keeps them afloat, as well as allowing for life’s little luxuries – like the occasional beautiful outfit, and trips to Glyndebourne.
Laura’s life is predictably happy, its family ups and downs all part of middle-class, middle-aged life. And then Nick Crocker walks back into her life and her memories. A passionate love affair at Cambridge 20 years ago, a broken heart, 20 years of silence, and now a letter.
As Laura works through her agitation and excitement, as she delves back into the bittersweet memories of those few glorious months oh-so-many years ago, her husband fights his own demons – the opinionated Adrian Massey, a mega TV star for whom he has written a script – as he tries to keep his temper and his feelings of failure at bay.
Meanwhile, Laura’s young son Jack fights his own primary school turf wars.
How to be cool.
How to be accepted.
How to prove you are worthy of being part of the inner core, even if it leads you into scary, unknown territory.
As the family goes its separate ways each morning, in the inevitable noisy rush of the school run and the dash to work, so many of the people with whom they will interact are also living out their fears and fantasies.
It is the cast of supporting characters who touched this reviewer more than the central couple.
The delightfully upright, simple, fair-minded vicar who has lost his faith, but realises he can still give comfort to his flock, so soldiers on in his little cottage, drinking his morning cup of instant coffee overlooking his tiny garden, his secret pride and joy.
We meet Alan, a young school teacher desperately trying to break loose from teaching the likes of Jack and his friends, and write a best-selling play. How he works towards that goal is an eye-opener, and on the way he solves the problems of Alice, one of his young students, by some outrageously unprofessional gossip.
Martin Linton, the village’s only farmer is initially a frightening, violent man, when seen through the eyes of Jack and his friends, but when Jack tries to blackmail the farmer, he has to face up to the consequence of his actions, and in so doing, discovers that the farmer is not so much frightening as frightened.
Frightened at the thought of losing his beloved farm, and at how he can support his young family, in a world where farming simply does not pay. Martin is embittered by the neglect of what he sees as the true, agricultural face of the countryside, and his words are deeply scathing of contemporary rural England.
Beneath the seemingly happy surface of what is, in essence, a happy little Sussex village, people are living lives of dreams and delusions, of fear and hatred, and their stories mingle, while Laura faces up to her own crisis of heart.
Passion over routine?
A placid, utterly predictable present over a passionate past and the promise of an equally passionate future?
Decisions and choices are the leitmotivs of this enjoyable novel.
Published by Quercus Books, the paperback £7.99
Here’s the link, below, to buy the book.