Reviewed by E.B. Heath
I have never liked romantic fiction – so why did I find Veronica Henry’s The Forever House so very enjoyable?
From the first page Veronica Henry makes the reader feel there! ‘There’ is the English Cotswold town of Peasebrook, where Belinda Baxter has established her own estate agency. Belinda has a reputation as the ‘go-to’ person for honest appraisals and all encompassing wonderful service; the type of realtor one can only dream about. Throughout the novel we learn that Belinda has not had an easy life; she is a feisty, focused achiever, who is saving to buy her own forever house. She is a wonderful role model for younger and older readers alike. I loved Belinda!
Belinda has been commissioned to sell Hunter’s Moon, a charming home with an enormous garden, two miles from Peasebrook; it has been the family home of the Willoughbys for over fifty years. Alexander Willoughby and his wife Sally are currently living at Hunter’s Moon with their loveable dog Teddy. They do not really want to sell their beautiful home with so much family history woven into its walls, but, sadly, they need to sell. Their lives are in emotional turmoil and Sally is doing her best to guide them through it. Sally, like Belinda, is a strong capable character. I loved Sally!
In Chapter 8 the narrative takes on a dual storyline where it flashes back to 1967 London and we learn about Alexander and Sally’s family background. Sally rescues charming and beautiful Alexander, as he lies drunk in the gutter near her scruffy basement flat. When Alexander takes Sally home to Hunter’s Moon we meet his mother, Margot, a successful novelist, whose earnings account for the family’s lavish lifestyle, his father, Dai, a frustrated Welsh poet, and his two sisters Annie and Phoebe. Annie is unhappily attending an expensive progressive school and Phoebe is designing and making trendy clothes so typical of the 1960s. And there’s the parrot! The Willoughbys’ lives are so chaotic that they need saving from themselves. I loved the Willoughbys!
Hunter’s Moon is not the only house that Belinda is selling; she has been commissioned to put on the market another property – The High House. This is an emotional challenge for her and provides the storyline with some intrigue and gives the reader insight into her background and how Sally and Belinda’s lives converge in more ways than just real estate.
Veronica Henry has had an impressive writing career extending as far back to being a scriptwriter for the radio play The Archers, and later the television series Heartbeat and Holby City. She has written many works of fiction, winning an award for A Night on the Orient Express. The success of The Forever House is due in no small measure to her writing style, which is light, easy to read, and charming. Although handled lightly, the subject matter involves real life issues that can make or break a person. The setting of Peasebrook, and particularly Hunter’s Moon is described so well, and not just physically, as the spirit of the place is captured and interlocked with the lives of its inhabitants. The flashback structure is used with good effect to illustrate personal development; meeting the young and old Alexander and Sally adds intensity to their persona. The flashbacks also provide depth to the Willoughby history, giving the reader a comprehensive view of the family, their strengths and weaknesses, their highs and lows.
The Forever House is highly recommended. It is a ‘feel good’ novel with realistic, winning characters.
By Veronica Henry
ISBN 978 1 4091 7201 7
$24.99; 363 pp