Jen is a photographer, long-term girlfriend and mummy who feels slightly frustrated and underwhelmed by life when the story starts. She thinks back to pre-baby days when her career was on a high and life was more spontaneous. She associates those days with Sam, an ex-love, who calls her out of the blue on her birthday.
Sam invites Jen to spend a week in his father’s villa in Tuscany, with her man, Marcus, and son, Alfie, and various other friends of Sam’s. Some are known to Jen, others she has not met. Jen and Marcus have fallen into a bit of a rut and Jen hopes this could be the very thing they need to revive their relationship.
Once in Italy, the sun shines, wine flows and suspicions are aroused. Each member of the group deals with their own issues, some better than others. Trying to put up with annoyances from others in the party, everyone does their best to enjoy their time at the villa. For Jen, there is something not quite right about Jill, the housekeeper, but she tries to put it to one side for the sake of the holiday.
I found the book compelling; I didn’t want to put it down until I discovered the climax that Morris was building towards from the start. Morris writes beautifully. Her attention to detail is the key to this book’s success. She creates a vivid picture, but includes the tiny observations that really bring it all to life; I could smell the lavender in the heat of the Italian summer, and I could hear the cicadas on the terrace.
I did find the ending a little frustrating, not for the twist, but because the book had been building towards it for so long and going into great detail that I felt it was rather abrupt and over too quickly. There was more I wanted to know about the background and how the story came about, and more details about how the characters responded thereafter.
Jen is a very recognisable character and I’m sure readers of the novel will see many aspects of their own lives cropping up in Jen’s story. She is easy to relate to, and Morris’s other characters are also very believable.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book and it reinforced the idea that there are friends you should go on holiday with, and friends you most definitely should not! Relationships do not always transport well. Sometimes, being away is exactly what is needed to pour a little clarity on things, as Jen and others discover. The story throws up many questions about how people gel together as a group and analyses the dynamics well. I found myself cringing on behalf of some characters at the behaviour of others!
The book was most definitely a great read and I recommend it to anyone wanting to hang on to the last vestiges of summer, or who has ever been niggled by people they have been away with.
This is Kate Morris’s third novel. www.katemorris.co.uk