#BookReview: The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd

The Lavender House front cover

Nancy de Freitas is the glue that holds her family together. Caught between her ageing, ailing mother Frances, and her struggling daughter Louise, frequent user of Nancy’s babysitting services, it seems Nancy’s fate is to quietly go on shouldering the burden of responsibility for all four generations. Her divorce four years ago put paid to any thoughts of a partner to share her later years with. Now it looks like her family is all she has.

Then she meets Jim. Smoker, drinker, unsuccessful country singer and wearer of cowboy boots, he should be completely unsuited to the very together Nancy. And yet, there is a real spark. But Nancy’s family don’t trust Jim one bit. They’re convinced he’ll break her heart, maybe run off with her money – he certainly distracts her from her family responsibilities.

Can she be brave enough to follow her heart? Or will she remain glued to her family’s side and walk away from one last chance for love?

My Take:

This is the last book in the #QuercusSummer event, and a hardback copy arrived from the publishers (Quercus) in early August. My reviews of the previous #QuercusSummer books can be found here: Florence Grace and Last Dance in Havana.

In The Lavender House, Nancy is presented with a scenario that some older women find themselves in – being dumped by her husband for a younger model, her daughter and son-in-law having personal and professional issues, an aging and ailing mother, and an overall lack of confidence in herself and what her role in life now is. The author does tell the story from the perspective of the three generations of women (plus Jim!), but Nancy is the focus of the story.

I found Frances (as Nancy’s mother) perhaps the least well developed – a woman who grew up after WWI, who was taught to always have the best face on, no matter what, which means that she’d never admit to being ill, even when others can see what’s wrong.

Now being a woman in her 60s and having put her family first for so long – especially after the divorce – Nancy finds it difficult to then start looking after what’s best for her. She finds it difficult to say “no”, even if it means standing Jim up for a birthday date because she refuses to ask Louise to look after Frances or when Louise needs a last minute baby sitter on New Year’s Eve, which means Nancy can’t go to France with Jim.

In turn, however, the family have no problems expecting Nancy to drop everything, often at short notice. Their dislike of Jim seems to stem from the fact that his appearance in Nancy’s life represents a change in the dynamic and that things will change if she continues to date him. It takes the advice of her friends to make Nancy realise it’s not a case of either one or the other: she can have both, if everyone is willing to compromise a little.

I must admit I struggled with this book the most out of the three – I’m significantly younger than Nancy (though I do have old-ish parents), and have no children. I understood most of the dilemmas at a hypothetical level, but less at an emotional level.   I am thankful for taking part in this event from Quercus, as it has certainly made me read and review books I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up otherwise!


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