I’d thoroughly enjoyed Helen Matthews’ first novel, Leaving the Village, which focused on human trafficking, and her new novel is just as fascinating. Following a fatal accident at her husband’s firm, for which he is held responsible, Emma and Paul Willshire attempt to begin a new life in France with their daughter Mollie. This is not an easy decision – Emma already has a son in England with her first husband, and Paul has made personal decisions which will affect their new life.
We’re not offered a romanticised escape to a French idyll here – the renovation of a derelict cottage proves highly problematic, and the family become bogged down in paperwork – and this makes the novel all the more engaging. Emma takes matters into her own hands when she takes on the running of a local bar but Matthews does not give us a whimsical tale of an outsider knitting a flagging community back together through her heroine’s endeavours. Rather, this is a realistic and absorbing tale of struggle and fluctuating profits. That said, there were many moments when I found myself cheering Emma on, enjoying her newfound determination and resilience. Emma, as a highly believable character, is an honest depiction of a woman who has decided to shoulder whatever life throws at her, and although Paul also gets his own chapters, it is she who is at the heart of this narrative, and I loved her story.
As in her debut novel, Matthews is very good at looking at the role power plays within relationships, and she avoids trite or easy resolutions. The steady pace of the plotting shifts up a gear towards the end as Matthews uses her material carefully to build a complex picture of people’s behaviour, and a tense conclusion follows. This is an engrossing story of new starts, difficult decisions, and the impact toxic relationships can have on all concerned. Highly recommended!
My thanks to Rachel @rararesources for my review copy.
Emma Willshire has overcome plenty of obstacles in her life. From student bride to single mum of a son, Owen, but she has found happiness with her second husband, Paul and another child, Mollie. Emma’s dark days seem far behind her until a fatal accident happens at Paul’s work and he is held responsible.
On holiday in France, Paul’s behaviour turns erratic. On impulse, he buys a cheap, dilapidated property and, to Emma’s dismay, persuades her they can renovate it into a holiday home.
Back in England, their problems spiral out of control. Escape to a new life in France seems the only solution but with heart-breaking loss for Emma. As the couple strive to renovate their ruin and open a small business, shadows from the past threaten their happiness and safety. Because, how can you build a new life on toxic foundations?
Helen Matthews is the author of Lies Behind the Ruin, a contemporary suspense novel set in France, to be published in April 2019 by Hashtag Press. Her debut novel After Leaving the Village, published in 2017, won first prize for the opening pages of a novel at Winchester Writers’ Festival. Born in Cardiff, she read English at the University of Liverpool and holds an MA in Creative Writing from Oxford Brookes University. Helen’s short stories and flash fiction have won prizes and been published in Reflex Fiction, Ad Hoc, Artificium, Scribble and Love Sunday. Her freelance journalism has been published in the Guardian and broadcast on BBC radio. She is an ambassador for Unseen, a charity that campaigns to end human trafficking and modern slavery.
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