For me, one of the best parts of summer is the opportunity it brings to wile away afternoons on the lawn with a book. Veronica Henry’s The Forever House is the perfect book for just such a day. Fans will be pleased to hear that Henry’s new novel returns to the charming village of Peasebrook, the setting of her previous – and much loved – How to Find Love in a Book Shop. This time, we head to the Cotswold countryside to the breathtaking manor house Hunter’s Moon, to be reminded that a house is much more than bricks and mortar.
The Forever House tells two stories, one present and one past. In the present, we meet Belinda Baxter, owner of a boutique real estate business. She is unlike other estate agents, in that she genuinely cares: about the people leaving their home behind, and about finding just the right family to live there next. It is because of her caring approach that Sally and Alexander Willoughby choose Belinda to sell the special Hunter’s Moon. The home has been in their family for more than 50 years, and the decision to sell did not come lightly, but Alexander has motor neuron disease and selling is a financial necessity.
Hunter’s Moon is full of history, and it is this history that readers are invited into in the adjacent storyline. In this thread, it’s 1967 and a young Sally, trying to make her way in the world, finds herself working as a housekeeper at Hunter’s Moon, home of the famous author Margot Willoughby. It’s the Swinging Sixties, and the Willoughby family, with their seemingly endless cocktails and parties, are the embodiment of this fun and chaotic time. The homely Sally becomes the one grounding influence in all of their lives – those of Margot, her husband, and their children (the eldest of which is Alexander). In turn, Sally falls in love with Hunter’s Moon, and the eccentric Willoughbys.
Like Sally, it is the Willoughbys and their antics that I fell in love with in The Forever House. This part of the book reads like an enchanting dream and makes for compulsive reading. The crazy, unexpected, and messy life that Sally finds herself a part of – so different from the one she left – is captivating, as much for her as it is for the reader. The author’s vibrant characterisations, the busy atmosphere of the house, and the wildness of the era, all make for engaging reading. Beneath the surface, however, there is pain and there are secrets and these subtleties are thoughtfully portrayed. As the history of Sally and Alexander – of Hunter’s moon – is uncovered, the reader is filled with hope for the present day characters.
Unfortunately, the Willoughby’s story overshadows that of the other heroine, Belinda. I found myself less invested in her, and flying through her chapters just to return the charm and charisma of the ’67 thread. It is a shame, as Belinda is likeable, with her own hidden depths, and she has a lot to offer as a character. I felt a little like her story wasn’t plumped out as much as it could have been. For instance, ever the romantic, I would have enjoyed more development of Belinda’s relationship with Leo, Sally and Alexander’s son. He was such a minor character, and felt a little rushed, especially in comparison to the description and detail of the past.
On the whole, this is a character driven book, with Alexander and Sally’s relationship, and Sally’s warmth, cohesively tying the different timelines together. Hunter’s Moon, the beautiful old house, is at the heart of the story, however, and in many ways is the main character. Henry creates wonderful atmosphere on the page, and this house, in the beautiful Cotswold countryside, is at the centre of it, witness to all the love and trials, the warmth and sadness that have flowed through it over the years. This summer, I recommend escaping to Hunter’s Moon with this heart-warming book, filled with charm and history, life and family. The Forever House is an entertaining read that will have you thinking about the place you call home.