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A Quietly Compelling Read
on 20 September 2013
Shipleigh, the location of Jane Feaver's latest novel, is a tiny village in Devon, somewhere between Exmoor and Dartmoor, buried so deeply in a sleepy valley that many do not even realize it exists. Living in an old cottage, inherited from her aunt, is Mavis Gaunt, an elderly lady who first visited Shipleigh when she was evacuated during the war. Mavis, the child of a difficult marriage, found a warm welcome at Shipleigh and when she reluctantly went back to her London home, she vowed to return to the village and its close-knit community one day. And Mavis did return to Shipleigh in 1961, and when shortly afterwards she inherited her aunt's cottage, she remained in the village and became intimate with the dysfunctional Upcott family: Robert, Frances and Tom. And as Mavis spent more time with the Upcotts, she became drawn into their lives and unwittingly involved in an incident which ended in tragedy.
In the present day, Mavis now in her seventies, finds her settled, orderly life is somewhat disrupted by the arrival of single mother, Eve, and her young son, Archie. Mavis soon discovers that Eve is the daughter of Beatrice, a very attractive young woman with whom Mavis was acquainted many years ago. When Eve begins to question Mavis about her mother, who is now no longer alive, Mavis finds herself confronting upsetting events from the past, events which she has tried, until now, to avoid examining too closely. But will Mavis, now she is travelling towards the end of her life, be able to face her painful memories and finally lay them to rest?
Lyrical, beautifully written and composed with perception and sensitivity, Jane Feaver's third book is a quiet and intimate meditation on the inner lives of the inhabitants of a rural community. With some well-realized characters and some deftly written passages, this novel makes for an interesting and satisfying read. I found the section in which the author described Mavis's working life in a London office rather entertaining, and the part of the story where Mavis returned to Shipleigh to take possession of her deceased aunt's house, and wandered through the cottage, remembering events from the past and absorbing the sights, sounds and smells of her new home, was very evocative to read. 'An Inventory of Heaven' is a slow-paced, but quietly compelling story which I feel is most probably better read in a couple of concentrated sittings. This novel may not suit if you enjoy fast-paced, plot-driven narratives, but for those who prefer reflective, unhurried stories which focus more on character and situation, this should make an enjoyable and rewarding read for you.