8 June 2011
Palaces & Calluses is the debut novel of Rebecca Woodhead and the first of The Cotswolds Chronicles. Light, heart-warming and entertaining, this novel has it all. A cheating husband, an abnoxious boss, fabulous shoes and fashion, a family you'd kill for, and the sweetest dog in the world.
Mary, is living her dream. She has a charmed life. She is married to the love of her life, has a beautiful house and is the queen of the social high life in London. But when the unthinkable happens, she loses everything she has, and everything she knows, including herself. She escapes to her parents' above average house, in the Cotswolds hidden under her dog's blanket in the back of their car, ashamed and hurt.
Back in her childhood bedroom, Mary slowly comes to terms with what she can have out of life, one chocolate Hobnob at a time. But it doesn't look good.
The story is easy to follow, easy to read and hard to put down. I read it from start to finish in two days, something I haven't done in a while. This is down to the plot flowing effortlessly from chapter to chapter. By the time I get through the first three or four chapters, I become almost obsessed with finding out whether or not Mary, the protagonist would get her life back.
Mary doesn't know what she wants for most of the story and I find myself sharing her dilemmas, her indecision, her dark hours. She is not perfect. This is what I like most about her. I wholeheartedly feel her anguish and cheer her on her path to self-discovery. I laugh at her naivety at times, and I feel frustrated at her initial inability to deal with the situation she's found herself in.
Finally, relief comes to me, as a reader, and as the story progresses. Mary grows up. The author is succesful in turning this trophy wife into an independent, proud woman that can stand on her own two feet, despite the painful setbacks that she must deal with. And believe me, they are painful.
The author's writing is elegant and natural with beautifully written descriptions that are built almost in a linear, straight to the point fashion, without a hint of pretentiousness.
It immediately gives me the opportunity to almost feel, hear, smell and see what her characters are up to. The Cotswolds, where the story is primarily set, becomes my surrounding country and green fields, the main character's childhood bedroom, becomes my own. Each description, draws me into the life of the characters and their individual view point, and are written in such a way, that every little detail stays with me throughout the book, and beyond.
The same applies to the dialogues. Sharp and realistic, they give each character depth and their own individual place in the story.
Even the family dog, Rock the Collie, has his own important voice and part to play. Rock is both the heroine's "rock", and cause of strife. He forms a major role in Mary's recovery. I am more of a cat person but even I couldn't help but adore this fluffy little darling. And there are other characters that I love, like Jackie, the friend that tells it as it is.
Most of the story is narrated from Mary's point of view, with exception to a couple of chapters that give Jackie's point of view. Jackie seems to be everything that Mary isn't, as she shares her misfortune and gives a glimpse of her personality.
I hear, Rebecca Woodhead is busy editing the second book of The Cotswolds Chronicles series and I am nearly certain, the two women will dominate a few days of my time. I hope it's sooner rather than later.