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.