A Place for Us (Part Four)/Overview – Harriet Evans

Headline have serialised Harriet Evans’ latest novel in four parts. There will be no spoilers in this post and hopefully it will serve as an overview of the whole book and process, but if you don’t know anything about the novel, it might be worthwhile looking at my review for Part One first. (There are also reviews of parts two and three but they contain spoilers.)

In the final part of A Place for Us, Evans brings things for the Winter family to some conclusions. Florence’s trial takes places; Cat has to make a decision about whether to remain in France; Karen has to decide whether she’s happy with Joe and their living/childcare arrangements, and Martha has to work out how to bring her family back together. Safe to say Evans brings each storyline to a satisfying conclusion via more upset and some overt feminist commentary.

Reading about the Winter family in four parts over a spread of four months has been hugely enjoyable. The extracts were all approximately 100 pages in length, which is short enough to read in one sitting, and they were published four weeks apart, meaning you could still remember the content of the previous section and you were still keen to know what happened next.

A Place for Us is the first novel by Harriet Evans I’ve read. Previously I’ve been put off by the covers and titles of her books. I was wrong. This novel is populated with believable characters and interesting plot threads skilfully interwoven. It might have been my first Harriet Evans but it won’t be my last.

 

Thanks to Headline for the review copy. A Place for Us is available for ebook as four volumes now or in paperback and ebook as a single volume on January 15th 2015.

A Place for Us (Part Three) – Harriet Evans

Headline have published Harriet Evans’ latest novel, A Place for Us, in four digital episodes. If you haven’t read parts one and two, this will contain MASSIVE SPOILERS. I will point you towards my review of part one instead.

Part Three is where many more secrets are revealed. To begin with, it takes us back to the past, to David creating the sketches of the east end of London which were finally about to be exhibited, and creating Wilbur from some of Daisy’s drawings when under pressure in a meeting.

Evans moves between David’s childhood – his abusive father, the story of his younger sister and finally, the origins of Florence – and Martha struggling to even acknowledge that David is dead, unable to reach out to her children.

Tears poured down Martha’s cheeks. She retched, her throat swelling up so much with the power of grief that she thought, then and there, she was losing consciousness. She leaned against the wall, panting, sobbing, gasping for breath. But there was no one to hear her in the empty house. No one.

We also find out what’s really happening between Karen and Joe and Cat and Lucy both pay a visit to Winterfold. Florence’s legal proceedings are well underway but between them and the secret she’s uncovered, the strain is beginning to show.

Part three of A Place for Us is an absorbing read; we know the characters well by this point and this allows Evans to delve deeper into their stories and allow us to understand their motivations. I’ve enjoyed reading the book in serialisation and part three has been my favourite so far.

 

Thanks to Headline for the review copy.

A Place for Us: Part Two, ‘The Party’ – Harriet Evans

Headline is publishing Harriet Evans’ latest novel in four parts. The first was published at the end of July and the second at the end of August. If you haven’t read part one, I would recommend you read my review of that first as unless you’ve read part one, this review will contain BIG SPOILERS.

Part one ended as we were made aware that the reason for Martha’s 80th birthday party was to tell the rest of the family that one of their number was dead. Part two begins with an extract from that character’s childhood diary and it’s clear they weren’t very pleasant:

Pa doesn’t love me. He loves Florence, sort of loves Bill, but mainly Florence, because she likes paintings and she’s a really vile little sneak, a swot, and the worst word I can think of and I’m not writing it down.

And Pa doesn’t like me because he thinks I make trouble. I DON’T. I gave him the idea for Wilbur and he just doesn’t care….

Florence, I am writing your name down on the list I am keeping. I wish you would die. If Wilbur’s dead you should definitely be dead too.

Florence doesn’t belong here. She’s not even one of us. Look at her. And look at me.

In the present that the book’s set in, Florence has decided to stand up for herself and has emailed Professor Lovell, the Courtauld Institute and Peter Connolly’s literary agent and publishers accusing him of plagerism.

But it’s Cat that’s the centre of the most dramatic developments; firstly when she arrives – son, Luke with her – and Joe Thorne reverses out of the drive at Winterfold and straight into Cat’s hire car:

A little boy stood in front of them, thumb in his wide-open mouth, face purple with yelling, and blood dripping from his forehead. He screamed, pulling at his black hair, smearing blood across his wet cheeks.

Behind him a woman came running towards him, her mouth also wide open, her eyes wide, white, wild. She caught him in her arms and he buckled to the ground, still wailing with pain.

And secondly, when she realises where Karen’s been going.

A Place for Us: Part Two is as gripping as part one. We delve further into the problems and complexities that are tearing this family apart and watch as they begin to unravel. Some strands move quicker than others – some threads begun in part one are barely touched upon in this section, but that’s only to be expected when a longer novel is serialised. Evans’ latest book is turning out to be an engrossing family saga. I can’t wait to read part three.

A Place for Us will be available to buy in ebook instalments on the following dates:

Part One – 31st July
Part Two – 27th August
Part Three – 24th September
Part
Four – 23rd October

The complete book will be available in paperback and ebook on the 15th January 2015.

 

Thanks to Headline for the review copy.

A Place for Us: Part One, ‘The Invitation’ – Harriet Evans

Tomorrow, Headline is publishing the first instalment of Harriet Evans’ new novel, A Place for Us. The 450-page book has been divided into four parts which will be available as ebooks at the end of July, August, September and October.

The day Martha Winter decided to tear her family apart began like any other day.

A Place for Us is the story of the Winter family. Martha, mother and grandmother, is about to turn 80 and she’s decided to have a party. On the Friday night, drinks and canapés will be served to friends and family; on Saturday, there will be a family-only lunch. The invitations are sent with the words, ‘There will be an important announcement. We ask that you please be there.’

Martha has spent her life looking after her family and her artist husband, David. David is the creator of a cartoon strip featuring ‘Wilbur the Dog and Daisy, the little girl who thought she understood him’. A gallery in London is planning an exhibition of pictures he drew during the war when he lived in the East End. Martha’s own career as an artist was abandoned when they bought Winterfold in Somerset:

At first Martha thought she’d never be able to take it on. It was a mess when they saw it; green paint covering the original Arts and Crafts wooden panelling, rotten floorboards, the garden one large compost heap of mouldy, brown mulch.

They moved there when there three children were young – Bill, Daisy and Florence.

Bill is now the village doctor. Married to his second wife, Karen, seventeen years his junior. Their marriage has become mostly silent, as David seems unwilling or perhaps unable to discuss the underlying issue. David’s daughter, Lucy, from his first marriage, works on the features desk at the Daily News although, after a year, her boss still hasn’t actually let her write a feature and it’s clear she doesn’t fit in with the polished high-fashion women she works with.

Daisy hasn’t been home since Bill and Karen’s wedding. Indeed, she rarely comes home at all. She works for a literacy and schools charity in Kerala, India, having left her daughter, Cat with Martha and David. Cat lives in Paris with the insufferable Madame Poulain and sells flowers at the market. Her life has fallen apart following an abusive relationship and now she’s keeping a huge secret from her family.

Florence lives in Florence (the city she was named after) and works as an academic in the field of art history:

…a professor employed at the British College of Art History in Florence, author of two books, contributor to several more, a visiting professor at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and an occasional voice on the radio…

She’s awkward in social situations, however, which leads to some excruciating scenes. She is also treated appallingly by some of her fellow academics which leaves her asking whether it’s time to return home.

The novel’s narration moves between the characters in a third person subjective voice. In part one, we are privy to Martha, David, Karen, Lucy, Daisy, Cat and Florence’s thoughts as well as an outsider, Joe Thorne. Newly moved to Somerset and working as the chef in the Oak Tree pub, Joe’s doing the catering for Martha’s party. He allows us an outsider’s perspective on events.

Part One of A Place for Us is an engaging read. I was fascinated by each character, their struggles and their secrets; Evans has set the family up perfectly for some explosive revelations when the party gets underway.

I’m pleased to see a publisher trying a different approach too. Serialisation isn’t new but, unlike some of the ideas brought back from the Victorian era over the past few years, this is one that just might work. Unsurprisingly, there’s a jaw-dropping revelation at the end of ‘The Invitation’ and now I’m desperate to read part two.

A Place for Us will be available to buy in ebook instalments on the following dates:

Part One – 31st July
Part Two – 27th August
Part Three – 24th September
Part Four – 23rd October

The complete book will be available in paperback and ebook on the 15th January 2015.

 

Thanks to Headline for the review copy.