Would it be a bad thing to say I really enjoyed Judith Lennox's The Winter House, despite its predictability? I honestly don't say that as a criticism but more as an observation. Actually I think I liked it because of its predictability, as strange as that sounds. There are certain authors I turn to because I know more or less what I can expect from them and there is a comfort in knowing I can pick up a book, immerse myself in the story, be somewhere else entirely for a while, perhaps be confronted with situations that might be difficult and muddled, but in the end turn out for the best (maybe not necessarily be a picture-book happy ending for all the characters but certainly satisfying)? Georgette Heyer's books come to mind for example. Now I definitely don't ask (or want) that of all the books I read. More often than not I want something really fresh and unexpected or surprising, but sometimes I also just want something undemanding with an 'all's well that ends well' sort of set up. It's not necessarily a bad thing knowing ahead of time just what I'm getting myself into, if you know what I mean.
Early last year I read Lennox's The Heart of the Night, which revolved around two young women in the lead up to and during the Second World War. Friends to begin with, but then adversity broke them part, each went her separate way and had to deal with a variety of trials and tribulations, affairs of the heart and matters of the world. Of course there was lots of tension along the way and a fair amount of heart ache. No matter the difficulties and the moments of wondering if things really were going to turn out okay; well, in the end they did turn out okay.
The same could be said of The Winter House, though the stories and situations are quite different. The winter house is where Robin, Maia, and Helen come together to share their dreams and hopes for the lives that are ahead of them and so full of hope. The First World War is over. Robin has just moved from London to Thorpe Fen where the family has relocated as her brother Hugh's nerves were ruined in the war. Unhappy to be exiled to the back of nowhere she meets beautiful and ambitious Maia, and the local rector's proper daughter Helen at school. The story opens just as the three are leaving school and ready to take on the world.
Each will get her desire, or some form of it anyway, but each will pay a price along the way. Robin gives up her place at Girton to return to London with a passion to change the world. Maia wants to marry a very rich husband in order to secure her future happiness. And Helen wants nothing more but than to have a family of her own to care for. The rollicking Twenties move quickly into the Thirties filled with social inequality and hardship. Robin meets and falls in love with a young man who is apparently as idealistic as she is but ultimately not as driven. Maia gets her big house filled with so many trinkets but an abusive husband in the bargain. And Helen's possible suitors are all shot down by her widowed father whose own loneliness means he wants her all to himself.
This is all simplifying the story somewhat as, like The Heart of the Night, it's a story that is written with broad brushstrokes covering time and lots of distance. It may have followed a fairly predictable arc, but it was well done and Lennox surprised me a bit by what she had to say about identity and loneliness and expectations that raised it just a notch above pure escapist fiction. The years between the two wars (and one of my favorite periods to read about by the way) is the backdrop, though the action which culminates with the Spanish Civil War is pretty firmly tied up with the story. This, of course, piques my curiosity to read more about the Spanish Civil War, but I'll keep that at the back of my mind before undertaking anymore spur of the moment reading projects.
So this was another satisfying read by Judith Lennox. I've got several of her other books handy for when I'm again in the mood for a little comfort reading (all too often for me). Taking a look at my stacks I've got All My Sisters (Edwardian drama), Middlemere (family drama), Before the Storm (begins in 1909 and continues through WWII), and my most recent acquisition, Catching the Tide (set in Italy from the 1930s through 1960s). She tends to write often about the interwar period, so if it's of interest to you, do search her out.