Some Other Eden by Natasha Farrant
Some Other Eden is one of those books you get excited about when you read the publisher’s blurb or happen to spot a brief review that outlines the plot – because you know it’s a book you can immerse yourself in and enjoy a kind of vicarious thrill from all the dramatic goings-on.
It’s the second novel by Natasha Farrant, who is one of those women who makes you wonder what on earth you’ve been doing with your life – she grew up in the heart of the French community in London, which she says means she doesn’t feel either completely French or completely British, and she has degrees in modern languages from Oxford University and social anthropology from the London School of Economics, she’s worked in publishing and she now runs her own children’s literary scouting agency, so she has quite a rich background to draw on when coming up with ideas for her novels.
She does seem to enjoy exploring the themes of romance, nostalgia and dark secrets in gorgeous settings, and if you read her first book, Diving Into Light, you can expect similar subject matter in this one.
Some Other Eden has two plots running in parallel, and what they have in common is that they occur in the same family – they involve a grandmother Bella and her granddaughter Isla, and the events played out happen mainly at the English country house of Marshwood that Bella shared with her late husband Clement and now lives in with a gaggle of elderly widows – it’s a once stately home that’s now falling into disrepair, but Isla loves it and spends as much time there as possible, somewhat to the displeasure of her husband Richard, with whom she has two children.
Richard’s irritation over Marshwood is just one of the cracks that is appearing in the marriage when we meet these characters, and when Isla’s childhood love Jack returns from a stint as a war photographer in Bosnia – should point out that this novel is set in 1995, at the height of the conflict in the Balkans – she gives into temptation and embarks on an illicit affair.
What goes on between Jack and Isla somewhat mirrors events in Bella’s life half a century earlier, when she meets and falls in love with a young soldier, Louis, after, unfortunately, she has already married Clement and set up house at Marshwood
When Bella sees what is going on between Isla and Jack, it brings a lot of emotion to the surface for her, not least of which is jealousy, and this prompts the events of the second half of the novel as everyone is forced to face up to the consequences of their actions.
One of the strengths of this book is that although the plot isn’t the most original, what Natasha Farrant does with it is quite different – this is not a predictable book, and unlike many stories of romance and family drama, the characters behave in ways that real people might behave – if you found yourself in Isla or Richard or Bella’s situation, you might react exactly as they do, and for that reason you empathize and identify with the characters – and a book like this lives or dies by that – it doesn’t work unless you form an attachment to the people you’re reading about.
If you love a book with ambience and romance that is also grounded in real life, this one’s for you.
This review was previously published on Coast.co.nz
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones
Published by Penguin