Reading a book that a friend wrote, even an online friend, always runs the risk of being slightly unsettling, particularly when reading it knowing that you need to write a review… yet I was confident that Cathy Bussey’s first work of fiction would be an enjoyable read. I was also pretty sure it would include cycling somehow. I was right on both counts.
I read Summer at Hollyhock House* on hot lazy July afternoon, sprawled on an outside sofa on the veranda of the villa that our family rented, on the northeast coast of Mallorca. It was one of those typical Mediterranean afternoons when the flurry of morning activity – swimming and food gathering and lunch making and eating – had dissipated, giving way to lazy acceptance of the almost uniformly enforced siesta. With the children playing somewhere, and everyone else engrossed in their own books, I read Summer at Hollyhock House in pretty much one sitting.
Summer at Hollyhock House in many ways couldn’t have been further from that Spanish sunshine, set as it is in rural England, yet it was perfect beach reading. Well written (even in the uncorrected review copy I only found one instance of a paragraph with a repeated word) and carefully constructed, building the story with the aid of flashbacks and remembered conversation.
One long summer changed Faith forever…
Faith Coombes should have been over the moon when her long-term boyfriend proposed to her. But instead, she broke up with him. Rob was safe, reliable, nice and … boring. Nothing like the only person who had ever broken her heart…
Unable to afford the rent on another flat and desperate for a new start, Faith takes the plunge and moves back to the village she grew up in, returning to the house that holds so many memories for her.
Hollyhock House, the family home of her best-friend Minel, also belongs to the boy who meant so much to her all those years ago…
As Faith falls back in love with the sprawling surroundings at Hollyhock she also finds herself falling all over again for the only person who has truly hurt her.
Can Faith come to terms with her past? Did she make the wrong decision in breaking up with Rob?
This was more than the blurb would have you believe; this was nostalgic reminiscing about youth, of righting old wrongs, re-examining missed opportunities and considering second chances. I could see Cathy in Faith, and wondered whether Rik was the one that existed currently, or the one that got away (I know she claims neither, but some of those conversations between Faith and Rik were surely based on more than imagination).
Of course, this is a story you will have read before. You might even have lived it. Girl in a big town has everything she thinks she should have wanted, except she doesn’t, and after a slightly humiliating end to the current situation returns to wrestle with some unresolved issues in her past, which turns out weren’t necessarily exactly as she’d naively assumed. The reason the structure is so familiar is that it works – we like to read things that we identify with and characters that could be us, or people we know. Contemporary Women’s fiction is popular for a reason, and as with everything, is a case of finding the ones that are well written, that examine things from more than one predictable angle and have charm in the characters.
Thanks to Sapere Books for sending me the review copy, and to Cathy Bussey for the enjoyable read.
About Cathy Bussey
Cathy lives on the leafy London/Surrey border with her husband, two children and a dog with only two facial expressions, hungry and guilty. Her hobbies include mountain biking, photography, wandering around outside getting lost, fantasising about getting her garden under control, reading, looking at pretty things on Instagram and drinking tea.
She is the author of three non-fiction books and her debut novel Summer at Hollyhock House has been published by Sapere Books.
Cathy spent ten years working for a range of newspapers and magazines covering everything from general elections and celebrity scandals to cats stuck up trees and village fetes. She has been freelance since 2011 and written for The Telegraph, Red Online, Total Women’s Cycling and other lifestyle and cycling publications and websites.