Monday 11 May 2015

Review: Wish You Were Here by Catherine Alliott

When Flora, James and their two teenage daughters are offered the holiday of a lifetime in a chateau in the south of France in return for one simple good deed, they jump at the chance. They exchange the confines of Clapham, the weight of the mortgage and anxieties over their future for a blissful break.

But Flora didn't anticipate a mysterious guest and a whole heap of family baggage coming too.

With James developing a schoolboy crush on a famous singer and Flora distracted by ghosts from her past, their dream holiday suddenly takes some very unexpected turns.

Review: This is the story of a fairly typical middle class family of Mum and Dad, and two teenage daughters who are getting by, just, on their salaries, with nothing very much on the horizon. Suddenly, though, things are turned upside down when they get the offer of a free holiday in a dreamy villa in the south of France in return for an act of kindness. We are transported into a world of luxurious surroundings, hot, sunny summer days and yummy food. However, all is not tranquil within the walls of the villa, as the original four are joined by extended family, partners and friends. 

The main character in this tale is Flora, who has been a restaurant reviewer for many years and is really fed up with the job. The rest of her family have had more then enough of eating out at fancy restaurants with her too. I found her rather annoying really. She had got into a bit of a rut and seemed to let her daughters, and friends even,  walk all over her. Husband James is also in a rut, having shown promise as an orthopaedic surgeon but been overtaken by younger colleagues and now stuck doing boring cases. However, it is when he helps a young girl on a plane who turns out to be the child of a famous singer that the offer of the holiday comes and the story gets started. 

The characters who join them on their holiday are quite an assortment. James' father and sisters from Scotland are an interesting trio, Flora's mum is a zany, but likeable, lady, and Flora's friend and work colleague, Lizzie, is lively too. They bring with them some additional companions making for extra storylines. The couple who look after the villa and the guests are around in the background, but have their own story as well. So, on the surface this is the tale of a family holiday in the sun, but there is mystery and romance bubbling underneath. 

Because of Flora's job and the fact that the action takes place in the French countryside, there are many descriptions of delicious-sounding meals and ingredients bought fresh from markets in quaint little towns and villages. I thought that these were well written and made me think I might like to visit this region myself.

However, I can't say that I enjoyed this story as much as I expected. It is the first I have read by Catherine Alliott, although I know that she has published many before. I found it slow to get going, and then all the action seemed to happen suddenly in the last 10% or so. Everything was tied up nicely, but at a dizzying speed. By the end, I was left with that feeling of wanting to know what happened next, but it took a lot of perseverance to get that far. 

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