Natasha Godbold discovers the delights of The Country Set by Fiona Walker. Be warned, this book review could contain spoilers!
Whenever I find myself in a library or a bookstore, I automatically start scanning the shelves for my favourite names. We’ve all got a few authors we just can’t get enough of. The ones that bring tears of joy to our eyes, help us forget our mundane worries and allow us to disappear into the beautiful world of fiction where we can focus on other people’s problem for a while. Fiona Walker is one of those authors for me.
So when I came across Fiona’s new book – “The Country Set” – in a local shop I just couldn’t believe my luck. I felt like all my birthdays and Christmases had come at once. It was clear, simply by glancing at it, that this book wasn’t going to be just another quick fix but a real experience. The book is almost 900 pages indicating a long-lasting enjoyment.
“The Country Set” can best be described as a romantic comedy-drama. Like a great painting, it’s an intricate blend of Fiona’s signature wit mixed with deep undercurrents of darkness, bright accents of humour and fascinating observations. Alongside the clear black and white, there is a multitude of undertones of different colours that aren’t as easily identified. The characters are complex and intriguing and the twists and turns of the story make for a real enchanting journey.
The background for the book is truly breathtaking. It’s hard to find more majestic scenery than what the Cotswolds offers. Add to the mix tantalizing descriptions of beautiful countryside going through the change of seasons and the forces of nature at their wildest, and the scene is set.
Fiona Walker has an aptitude for creating strong, compelling female characters. I have fallen in love with the heroines of “The Country Set”, desperately wishing some of them were real, so that I could get to know them in person. Like Ronnie Percy – known in the village as “the Cotswold bolter” – a fiercely strong, smart, fast-riding and confident ravishing beauty who, despite all her attributes, had a very tough life. She had allegedly run away from home leaving her family behind and had been judged by anyone and everyone in the village ever since. When the author reveals the reasons that led to her eloping, you might reconsider your judgement and see her in a completely new light. A perfect example: one should not judge someone before they get to know them. Now back at the village to attend her father’s funeral, Ronnie is expected to take over the family business – a well-known horse breeding stud farm – and finds herself at the crossroads of her life once again.
Petra Gunn – a celebrated historical novelist of the village – is my other personal favourite. She is talented, sassy, witty and fabulous, yet very humble and down to earth. The fame she achieved early in her life did not go to her head, instead, she is quite happy to live in the secluded village focusing her attention on her undeserving husband and young kids while striving to keep her writing career going. She is a die-hard romantic in perpetual search of inspiration for her novels, who occasionally gets too close to the fire when her flirtation with her “SMC” or “safe married crush” – a local philanderer – threatens to go too far.
With very different background, upbringing and life experience the two heroines still have a lot in common: their passion for Shakespeare and theatre, and kind-hearted nature. When they finally meet, they are intuitively drawn to each other, and eventually, their mutual admiration develops into the kind of friendship only women are capable of.
A very different heroine of a younger generation but in no way less exciting is Carly Turner – a twenty-something mother of three, married to a dashing former soldier, who is going through trauma, caused by the experience received in the battlefields. Having recently moved into the village from the comfort of familiar army quarters, Carly struggles to adjust to her new way of life. This feisty blonde is a hard-working, warm, honest and deeply caring person with a passion for dogs and horses. She has a special healing gift she is just starting to discover.
In the truest form of art reflecting real life, not all the female characters in the book are equally likeable. The one, who I found the most confusing and controversial, is Pip Edwards. At first glance, she is just a village loner and a busybody, but when you dig deeper, you discover some truly shocking sides to her. Her character begs the question: “Are so-called do-gooders, people who really care and try to help others from the goodness of their hearts, or are they driven by some ulterior motive?” Running her care service for the elderly, does Pip truly have her clients’ best interest at heart, or is it just a means to an end?
And while we are on the subject of Pip, her shady on-line activity has turned out to be a real eye-opener for me. It brought home a few home truths about the World Wide Web in general and the social media sites in particular. With so many of us absolutely addicted to them, do we ever stop to realize, just how exposed and vulnerable they make us, and what a powerful weapon they can be in the wrong hands?
As the dramatis personae lists at the beginning of the book, the number of characters of different calibre rivals “Game of Thrones”, but once you’ve got them all established in your head, the variety only adds to the overall experience. With so many local beauties to amuse, there are plenty of fascinating male-leads around to balance it up and to overcomplicate things no end. But the most prominent theme of the book – which represents the backdrop for the whole of the story – is, of course, horses!
Everything you ever wanted to know about horses – breeding, day-to-day care, competing, interaction with humans and anything else you can think of – you will find in “The Country Set”.
Written with such love, care and attention to detail, it’s clear where the author’s passion truly lies.
Final thoughts on The Country Set by Fiona Walker
All in all, while without a doubt a source of great enjoyment, “The Country Set” provoked a lot of thought. There are numerous questions and difficult choices to ponder. So, even while I was busy elsewhere, not being able to be glued to the book for 24 hours, I still couldn’t stop thinking about it, which is probably the highest praise the book could get.
“The Country Set” with its variety of characters, mysteries, secrets, rivalries, friendships and moral dilemmas, plus Fiona’s general dose of naughtiness and sauciness, as well as refreshingly unembellished descriptions of human relationships, will keep you enthralled from beginning to end.
It will bring you to tears, keep you on the edge of your seat and make you laugh out loud. It is a brilliant contemporary novel that will keep you entertained for many hours. And the best news is – “The Country Set” is the first instalment of a three-part series, with the second book coming out in 2018. So, we still have a lot to look forward to!
Having developed the taste for it, I simply can’t wait to get my hands on the second book, as the story continues…
The Country Set by Fiona Walker
Publisher: Head of Zeus
Number of pages: 880
Dimensions: 228 x 145 mm
Available via Waterstones