When I joined the blog tour, back in 2017, for Invisible Women by Sarah Long, I just couldn’t find space on my reading list, and only managed to post an extract (you’ll find it here). I’m always delighted to discover an author whose books feature women of a certain age, so I wasn’t going to make that mistake a second time. I’m launching the blog tour today for her latest, A Year in the Château, to be published on 5th March by Zaffre Books for kindle, in paperback, and as an audiobook. My thanks to Tracy at Compulsive Readers for the invitation and support, and to the publishers for my advance reading e-copy (provided via netgalley) .
The new sharp, irreverent and hilarious book from Sarah Long. If you love Dawn French, Sue Townsend and Veronica Henry, this book is for you!
When Nicola’s husband, Dominic, retires they decide not to spend their days finding hobbies to fill the time until Countdown is on. Instead, they fulfil their life-long fantasy of buying a country house and filling it with their dearest friends. Reliving their youth and spending their children’s inheritance.
Joined by seven of their friends they club together to invest in a château in Normandy. Group dinners, fine wine, beautiful scenery – they’re living the dream!
But la vie en rose is harder than it first appears. Is there a reason why only teenagers take gap years?
One of the things I look for in any book featuring rather older characters is that feeling of identification – and I must admit that I did struggle a little with this book at the start. They’re all from professional backgrounds, distinctly selfish and self-obsessed, and I really didn’t particularly like any of them – had I identified with any of them I’d really have had serious cause for concern. But don’t worry, that didn’t last!
The whole idea of buying a home they could all share – four couples and one singleton, living separately but supporting each other – is a fascinating concept that inexorably draws you in. And of course, their relationships are further complicated by some dangerous undercurrents – former relationships, a touch or two of jealousy, the new partner that none of them really like (“useful to have one person who annoys everyone: it gives the others someone to bond against”).
After an abortive UK search for a suitable property, as the characters become more identifiable individuals and some of their “differences” become clear, they find and buy a dilapidated château – with potential – in Normandy. And they buy it without having a survey done – it seems they learned little from their professional lives. At first, they live the dream – enjoying all the period touches (other than the run-down bathrooms and the neglected kitchen), delighting in restoring the walled garden, planning for a croquet lawn and a cricket pitch, drinking the wine, eating the cheese. And then the dream becomes a rather increasing nightmare – a few tensions, some pretty major secrets – and they realise that their purchase is something of a money pit when the tiles fall off the roof and the scaffolding goes up.
Although I did perhaps find them rather an amorphous mass at first, there were actually some excellent characters in this book. The considerably younger Fizz isn’t the nightmare she first appears – and is the source of much of the gentle humour as she captures the adventure for her Mademoiselle Bovary blog and insta posts. I warmed to both Nicola and Beth after a slightly shaky start, enjoying their friendship despite Simon’s sometimes embarrassing and inappropriate attentions, and particularly after the story takes a more dramatic turn. Leo’s perhaps the only one of the group who’s likeable from first encounter – an interior designer, with an eye for decor, a slightly outlandish dress sense, moving on from a broken relationship with particular aplomb. And the cast of characters in the French part of the story – particularly the wonderful ex-chatelaine who continues to treat the place as her own – are excellent.
This book might not have been entirely what I was expecting, but there was a lot I very much enjoyed. Go on, give it a try, see what you think…
About the author
Sarah Long was raised in Essex, educated at Oxford and worked in publishing before moving to Paris with her husband and young children. She now lives in London with the same husband and most of her adult children, at the midlife stage that inspired her novel Invisible Women.
She is the author of three previous novels, And What Do You Do?, The Next Best Thing, and Invisible Women, as well as Le Dossier of Hortense de Monplaisir or How to Survive the English, a helpful guide to understanding the ways of the British, as seen through the eyes of her snobbish Parisian alter ego.
Although now back in the motherland, she has failed to leave France behind, and spends as much time as possible at her house in rural Normandy, making jam, digging things up and watching the wildlife which often ends up, uninvited, indoors.