In brief: As her 80th birthday approaches, Martha plans a party, but not just any party. This will involve an important announcement and Martha needs her extended family (all who have issues of their own) to attend. Will the big reveal tear the family apart?
The good: A lovely family story with unique characters that have deep secrets.
The not-so-good: I felt the pace was a bit slower towards the end, but I still got the ending I wanted.
Pages: 527 (ARC)
Publisher: Hachette (Headline Review)
Setting: England, Italy and France
My rating: 8.5 out of 10
**Please note that this book is published as a single book in Australia, and as four parts in the UK. Hence, there may be spoilers!**
A Place for Us is the first book by Harriet Evans that I’ve read, but I know it won’t be the last. If you enjoy authors such as Maeve Binchy or Cathy Kelly, you’ll love this week. While it may not be set in Ireland, A Place for Us gives the same sparkle to the small English village and the residence of the Winters, Winterfold. It’s a multilayered family drama that will continually have you gasping with surprise and later grinning with delight.
The premise for the story is simple. Martha Winter is turning eighty, and she’s going to have one of her legendary parties at Winterfold (well, except for that one party that was a disaster). Now that her family have scattered and all have their own self-absorbing problems, she’s determined to get them back together to tell them the truth. That’s right – the loving, perfect Winter family (except Daisy) have deep secrets and Martha is going to come clean. Her husband David doesn’t want her to, but Martha feels she must do so. We meet the extended family as they each receive their invitation – children and grandchildren. Each have their own memories of an idyllic life at Winterfold and are secretly hoping that Martha and David might solve their problems. As the family gathers, secrets are revealed, but disaster strikes as Martha reveals her secret. It looks like the Winters are falling apart – can they come back together in this time of adversity?
The book is split into four parts. Part One, The Invitation introduces us to everyone in the family and sets up a lot of mysterious issues. Luckily, I could move straight on to Part Two: The Party. This ends on an absolute cliff-hanger! Part Three is called The Past and the Present, which is a perfect description as it delves more into the past to give reasons why each member of the Winter family has done what they did. This ends on more of a hopeful note. Part Four, The End and the Beginning, draws everything together, including why Winterfold was so important to David and Martha. It also reveals what happened at the infamous party (a bit of a non-issue I felt). It is exceptional in the way it draws the multitude of plot threads together, making A Place for Us a charming story of overcoming adversity and the power of family.
Evans writes brilliantly flawed, memorable characters so that it was no problem to remember who was who. Each character has their quirks, from Cat’s reluctance to sell her Lanvin shoes despite the fact she’s nearly starving to Florence’s harebrained professor style. Even Karen, who I don’t think it meant to be written overly sympathetically, is an enjoyable read as she ruminates on what she’s done and how best to fix it. There’s a comedic scene with her husband in the last part which is both sweet and funny. I also enjoyed the back story of how David and Martha met, although I wish there had been more of it. The World War II evacuee aspect was interesting, as was the well-researched childhood of David.
In short, there’s something for everyone in A Place for Us. I loved how each chapter took us into a character’s head and the slow reveal of Daisy’s fate had me turning the pages to learn more.