‘Holidays are about surviving the gaps between one meal and another.’
For one long hot summer in Devon, three families are sharing one very big house in the country. The Herreras: made up of two tired parents, three grumbling children and one promiscuous dog; the Littles: he’s loaded (despite two divorces and five kids), she’s gorgeous, but maybe the equation for a truly happy marriage is a bit more complicated than that; and the Browns, who seem oddly jumpy around people, but especially each other.
By the pool, new friendships blossom; at the Aga door, resentments begin to simmer. Secret crushes are formed and secret cigarettes cadged by the teens, as the adults loosen their inhibitions with litres of white wine and start to get perhaps a little too honest …
Mother hen to all, Evie Herreras has a life-changing announcement to make, one that could rock the foundations of her family. But will someone else beat her to it?
I was so delighted to be asked to join the blog tour for A Very Big House In The Country by Claire Sandy (published 30th July by Pan, in paperback and for kindle), because this was a book I’d been really looking forward to. Around this time last year, I thought I’d discovered a wonderful new writer that no-one else knew about – I loved What Would Mary Berry Do? (here’s my review), thrusting copies at friends I thought should discover her too. It’s now a considerably less well-kept secret that Claire Sandy is the alter ego of the rather better known Bernadette Strachan, and not an undiscovered housewife scribbling at her kitchen table.
This book is very, very funny – beautifully written and a perfect summer read. If you like chaotic families, endearing children, teenage angst, female friendship, personal dramas, real life issues and shocks and surprises – all human life is here. It’s very cleverly constructed – three families with very different backgrounds drawn together in one location, the wonderful Wellcome Manor, for a fortnight’s holiday they’ll never forget. I really liked the two central couples. Evie is wonderful, loyal, blunt, wise-cracking, and a wonderful way with words (and I loved the erotica she writes!) but with a sadness underlying it all – and her relationship with Mike is perfectly drawn, very real, very funny. Shen and Clive are people you might not identify with so easily – filthy rich, morally a teeny bit questionable, but there’s a great deal more to them than it first appears.
There are some real secrets and surprises as you read – a few red herrings maybe, a few shocks, and some quite serious issues. Wellcome Manor is a character in its own right – a perfect backdrop for the story, and now as familiar as my own home. The “eights” – the younger children – were quite enchanting, with Mabel my particular favourite, wrestling with her unfamiliar words. The teenagers I found a little more difficult – very well done, but I just don’t know very many teenagers to draw comparisons with (my problem, not the book’s). And there’s one wonderful bit when… no, I won’t, you need to read it, there are so many wonderful bits!
I’m going to be honest and say that I think I enjoyed Claire Sandy’s first book just a little more – but I’m approaching my pensioner bus pass, and I do think this one would resonate more with a younger reader, particularly someone more familiar with children and families than me. But this really was an excellent read that I’d highly recommend – most definitely absolute perfection for that rare sunny afternoon in the garden.
Do catch up on the other stops on the blog tour…
My thanks to Francesca Pearce at publishers Macmillan, and to netgalley, for my advance reading e-copy and for including me in the tour.
Claire Sandy lives in Surrey with a husband and a daughter and loves lots of things, such as baking, reading, writing, eating, chatting about matters of global importance with her nine year old, dressing up her dog and inventing new things to do with gin. For more information on everything to do with Bernie Strachan’s many alter egos, do visit her website!