Set in an isolated, and I assume, fictional, village in the Netherlands, this gently warm, quirky book tells the story of a woman whose husband died, and who never remarried, though many of the village's inhabitants fancied themselves as husband, or at least lover, number two. Madame Verona lives alone in her isolated hill top house for well over 20 years. Eventually, as the book's title suggests, she makes the difficult journey down the hill, for the last time. Increasing age makes it harder and harder to re-ascend the hill after shopping trips etc to the village. One day, she knows, will be the last descent.
That's the plot of the book - doesn't sound like a ripping yarn, does it!
Yet Verhulst's ability to capture the particular individuals of the village, and to recount the extraordinary in 'ordinary lives' makes for a warm hearted and sweet read, full of wry, gentle humour, cute observations, and a collection of eccentric village dwellers who frankly make the denizens of 'Little Britain' look crass, unimaginative, dull and mundane.
Who wouldn't be charmed by the idea of living in a village whose inhabitants elect their mayor by awarding the honour to whoever can find a specific well hidden turnip. Which one year results in an extremely surprising mayoral winner indeed.
Although what the book is about is ultimately sad - the loss of love through the death of the beloved, and how the survivor ekes out her days and years afterwards, this novella is, as other reviewers have noted, far from maudlin or depressing. Instead, it celebrates life and oddball, unique individuality.In a strange way, despite the sadness behind the story (or lack of story) it is a most joyous book