Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve
There are occasional times when a book provides a heartening antidote to the horrors that bombard us in the news. Such a novel is Alexandra Potter’s latest, One Good Thing.
There is much to divert and engage a reader as the main character Olivia (Liv) adjusts from being a shattered divorcée to being a contented happy woman. This transformation is sparked by her rescuing an old dog, Harry.
Liv, a teacher, leaves her life behind in London and settles in a little village, Nettlewick, in the Yorkshire Dales. Her new home is dilapidated and the local builder, Ben, is called in and interest grows as it seems Ben was significant in her teenage years when she holidayed there at her grandparents’ cottage.
The link which connects the subsequent events is the dog, Harry, who is the eponymous one good thing that makes a difference to her life. He forges friendships with Valentine, her neighbour Stanley, Ben’s autistic son, and other inhabitants of the village as Liv takes him on his walks.
In those early months, Liv is welcomed into country life by her contributions to the lives of some of the locals. Valentine, sad and depressed by his cherished wife’s descent into Alzheimers, has his lonely days brightened by Harry whom he looks after when Liv has to go out. This leads to his becoming part of the village community once more, even to attending the pub’s Quiz night.
Stanley, who struggles at school, loves Harry and he becomes his beloved playmate. His Dad, Ben, has a troubled past but strives to be a good father. Liv manages to arrange for a school close by which will cater for Stanley’s needs.
Maya, sitting her A Levels, has her attitude to literature altered as Liv, now her tutor for the upcoming exams, uses her teaching prowess to coax Maya into exploring other possibilities. Visiting the Bronte’s village of Haworth and the ‘wuthering’ scenery of the surrounding moors, helps her realise the power of the landscape that so deeply affected Emily and inspired her writing of Wuthering Heights. A theatre visit for a performance of Macbeth held her spellbound and she admitted that Shakespeare was not ‘rubbish’; his plays should be seen, not merely read.
Liv’s busy life gives her little time to dwell on her marriage breakup. Gradually she works through the visits seven stages of grieving, and in the process discovers much about herself and her new found friends. The book is written in the first person so we have a more intimate experience of Liv’s thoughts and path to change. She finds friendship and a sense of connection as well as trust. Living spontaneously and having fun alter Liv and she is a more happy, relaxed and confident woman. Romance and drama have a place and the gentle humour make One Good Thing amount to far more than the title suggests.
Her new life in Nettlewick reads, at times, as though set more than fifty years ago, yet mobile phones, crowd-funding and Brexit are mentioned. There is no mention of the pandemic.
Regardless, Alexandra Potter’s book is a treat and an enjoyable way to escape the turmoil of 2022.
In a charming epilogue, the rules for life are proposed. There are 21 of them, inspired by her living with Harry. Amongst them are:
Greet everyone you meet as a friend
Drink lots of water
Joy can be found in the unlikeliest of places
Looks aren’t important and neither is age
And…. Play every day!
One Good Thing
by Alexandra Potter
ISBN 978 152902 286 5