One time actress Elfrida Phipps retires to a country cottage but is almost immediately reactivated through the personal tragedy of a comparatively new friend, Oscar Blundell, with whom she moves to an imposing old house, his shared inheritance, in Scotland. As Christmas approaches they are joined by a lovelorn cousin, Carrie, and her 14-year-old niece, Lucy, who is currently bothersome to the progress of her mother's new found love, and to her grandmother's hedonistic lifestyle. Sam Howard, troubleshooter in the textile industry, recently separated from his wife, arrives on the doorstep and finds himself unwittingly part of the soon-to-be snowbound family over Christmas. "Are you still snowed in with us, Sam? I hope so," says Edwina. "It would be such fun for all of us to be together." And so they all live happily ever after.
Lynn Redgrave, a good reader, voices the characters well but there's a recurrent smugness of expression that neutralises feelings of sympathy for this assortment who are destined by too many coincidences. A story without tension, the burdens of bereavement and finance and pleasures of romance and companionship are determined by unlikely turns of fate and the benefit of acquaintances who facilely solve the problems. --Running time 6 hours
Rosamunde Pilcher's novel, despite its chilly setting, will warm the hearts of her growing army of loyal fans. Winter Solstice
has all the familiar trademarks of a Pilcher saga, spun in her inimitable, homely, beguiling style. The story is told, chapter by chapter, from the perspectives of an eclectic array of characters. Former actress Elfrida--not very good by her own admission--leaves London for a geriatric bolt-hole in the country where she meets retired schoolmaster and organist, Oscar. Carrie, meanwhile (Elfrida's second cousin), returns to London from Austria and her brilliant career in the tourist industry, only to find her niece, 14-year-old Lucy, sadly neglected by her selfish mother and equally spoilt grandmother. Finally, handsome Sam is recalled from New York by his company chairman to rekindle an ailing Scottish textile mill.
As one after another must learn to live with their own kinds of loss, they find themselves collectively spirited northwards, from Sussex to Scotland, by way of Cornwall. And, as events unfurl, slowly, surely, but inevitably, those in need find solace in unexpected places. While her characterisations are, generally, carefully crafted and entirely rounded, Ms Pilcher's greatest strengths lie in her natural, easy narratives of everyday life, her thoroughly researched and captivating descriptions of scenery and surroundings. --Carey Green