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Summer of Love by Katie Fforde

The slipping-into-a-warm-bath experience proffered by Katie Fforde has stood the Gloucestershire writer in very good stead over the course of what, with Summer of Love, is now a 17-novel catalogue.

The lightness and gentle humour of her writing apparently reflect authorial traits: the jacket bio (always revelatory as to how seriously a writer takes herself) reveals that recently, Fforde’s “old hobbies of ironing and housework have given way to singing, flamenco dancing and husky racing. She claims this keeps her fit.” Similarly, there are traces of self-deprecation in some of her characters.

In Summer of Love, Sian Bishop is a single mother who arrives with four-year-old son Rory in a small town in the countryside not far from London. Rory was the result of the briefest of affairs, and has never met his father, who doesn’t know of his existence. Although Sian could track him down, they agreed when he departed for a long stint overseas that it was best to cut all ties, and Sian – whose rare brand of insecure doggedness becomes extremely grating as the story develops – has been true to their accord, raising Rory with the help of her parents.

It is when the pair decamp from London in search of a civilized school that the tale commences and Fforde’s lively, vibrant cast of characters begins to troop in to Sian’s rented cottage. All boxes are ticked: mid-50s Fiona is sage, fearless and seeking love on the internet; prickly, poised Melissa wants to buy the cottage out from under Sian and Rory, and periodically pops in to ponder her future renovation of the “damp, poky” kitchen; James the bookseller is a dark horse with sound romantic potential; and then there’s Gus, Fiona’s son, who hoves cursingly into view in the midst of a dinner party . . .

To say much more would be to give away a game which gets suspenseful (in a soft, relaxing sort of way) about a third of the way in. The quiet, orderly life Sian has created for herself and her son is wrenched wide open, and skeletons emerge, but no one gets hurt and there are plenty of breaks for tea and scones.

Fforde’s books are very much for women, and loathe as I am to use the term ‘chick-lit’, with writers such as the tremendous Jennifer Weiner having disparaged it, I don’t know of a more apt descriptor for her ability to spin amusing yarns that tie up neatly at the end. Her characters have all the flaws, foibles and blind spots of people you know, but the tidy conclusions bear little resemblance to real life, which is where her books find their appeal.

Summer of Love doesn’t push any boundaries, and readers will struggle even to register the existence of some characters; Rory, for instance, is merely a cipher, existing only to serve a larger purpose in the plot. It is neither intellectually challenging nor very memorable, but will provide comfort and distraction to those of a certain bent. Much like a warm bath.

Previously reviewed on Coast FM

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones


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