Earlier in the year, I downloaded a selection of ‘summery’ books to get me in the mood for/see me through the warmer months. For much of the season, though, I wasn’t in a very ‘sunny’ mood and eschewed these summery selections. Last week, I decided to make the most of the remaining August days and pick up Summer at Shell Cottage. In many respects, this choice was actually a timely one as the closing pages contain some lovely, elegiac passages about the end of summer.
The Tarrant family holiday at Shell Cottage in Devon every year. The novel focuses on three Tarrant women who are grappling with a host of secrets and lies. Matriarch Olivia is shattered when she discovers a shocking secret about her recently deceased husband. Daughter-in-law Harriet is forced to question just how well she knows her husband and daughter. And daughter Freya, a busy GP and working mum, has been struggling to cope and is keen to hide the extent of her troubles from her family.
I came to this novel looking for some light, easy reading and, for the most part, this is what it delivered. The various plots are all fairly engaging, though I did feel that, at over 450 pages, the book was too long. The majority of the storylines start to wear thin long before the end.
The characters are a mixed bag: for instance, I liked Harriet, who seemed wholly three-dimensional and I could easily imagine her plonking herself down at my kitchen table for a cuppa. Olivia, on the other hand, felt a little more like a stereotype, though I did enjoy many aspects of her storyline, particularly her relationship with her cleaner, Gloria.
What really irritated me about this novel, however, was that a very serious subject was dealt with in an incredibly flippant manner. Something that happens to one of the female characters is appalling, but is quite quickly brushed off as a life lesson. This results in a confusing unevenness in tone.
That aside, there is plenty to enjoy in this novel for those not quite ready to embrace Autumn. The descriptions of the Devon coast are vivid and should help ease any beleaguered readers through the chilly days ahead.