It has been a while since I read a book like this. A sprawling family saga, jumping back and forth between the decades of events that shaped the lives of its characters but also taking its time to tell a story.
The families of the Wolds and the Nolans are brought together by the death of Tony Nolan, a rich ex-husband of current Mrs. Wold. As all the children slowly get home, we can feel their trepidation in going back to a place where so many events crucial to their lives took place. They all have built other lives by now, fleeing, or more frantically escaping the nest and the memories of feuds past.
Each of the Wold and Nolan children has a story to tell and we gradually get to know them all, until we can understand how they all come together. And also how they brought the characters to where they are now. The perspective changes, so we can understand where each of them is coming from. One thing I appreciated about this book is that despite many of the events being dramatic Flint avoids overusing the drama. He steers clear of cheap sentimentality and almost distances himself from the emotions his characters are experiencing. That said he is a very good storyteller, able to engage us in his slow tale in a way that keeps us curious.
What I liked a lot is how much time and space Flint gives to his characters, we get to know them as people, to understand what makes them tick. Also because we know that at the heart of the story is a mystery, like children we are keen to keep going with the story to discover it. I also must say that the ambition of the deceased Tony Nolan to recreate the forest of Arden was really amusing. And that is another thing about this book, it is a serious family drama, but it also is funny.
I don’t want to go into too many details about the story, not to spoil your fun. But it really was a refreshing book mostly because of how old school it was. It reminded me how good a well-told story can be, it really doesn’t need fireworks, just a good plot, good characters, and prose to keep you going. I know, I make it sound simple, which it probably is not. But it has to be simple to read. Frankly, when a story is well told, I don’t much care about the writer’s suffering.
Another interesting thing about this book is how Flint brings together the stories of each family member. Some of them could really become stand-alone novels, they had enough in them. But the way he connects them brings something else from them. The cliche about the whole being more than a sum of parts really comes true here. All in all, a very nice surprise, especially for a book that was banished to the ‘looooong books shelf’.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska