So, people have been telling me for years that I must read something by Rosamunde Pilcher. I don't just mean one person, I mean more in the order of 'multitudes'... hordes of folk, horrified that I haven't read a single book by her. And I have meant to. The Shell Seekers has been off the shelf, onto the tbr pile, and back again more times than Imelda Marcos changed her shoes. It's shaming really. BUT, I have at long last put that right and I have read Winter Solstice. (And just look at this fab cover!)
Retired actress, Elfrida Phipps, has moved to Hampshire from London. It's a big step for her, buying her own house and moving to a small village on her own after losing someone close to her. Luckily, the locals in the village are friendly and welcoming and she soon becomes close friends with the Blundells, Oscar, Gloria and their 12 year old daughter, Francesca. Then comes tragedy. Elfrida is away in Cornwall when it happens and knows nothing until she gets back. Life for Oscar Blundell has changed irrevocably and he turns to Elfrida for help.
Carrie is back in London after quite a few years working in the skiing industry in Austria. She's trying to work through a loss of another kind but does not want to talk about it with anyone, including her selfish mother, Dodie, or likewise selfish sister, Nicola. Nicola has a daughter, Lucy, aged 14, and there's a problem. Christmas is looming and Nicola wants to go Florida with the new man in her life. Dodie is going to Bournemouth for the holiday and does not want Lucy along. Carrie steps in and makes plans for her and Lucy. She calls her older cousin Eldfrida... who is in Scotland with Oscar Blundell, in a large house half-owned by him.
Sam, who has been in NewYork for 6 years, married there and then separated, is moved to Scotland with his firm to rescue a failed woollen mill. He's met 'Hugh' at a dinner party in London. Hugh owns half a house in the coastal Highlands of Scotland, with Oscar Blundell, but wants to sell it. He thinks it might be the perfect place for Sam as it's close to the factory. Sam, of course has no idea that the house is now occupied.
As is the way with this kind of tale, all of these various lives and stories meet and merge and there's an outcome, but not before you have learned to love them all, Elfrida, Oscar, Carrie, Lucy and Sam. We have a story here about family, friendship, grief and recovery... or at least an acceptence of loss in that life will never be the same but can still be wonderful again given time, help and encouragement.
This is also a story about a house and how it can have a personality of its own. We all know this. How often have we been house hunting, despairing of ever finding the right place, and then walked into 'the next one on the list' and thought immediately, 'This is it'. Four times that's happened to me and I've never been wrong. The house in this book is known simply as The Estate House and is a rambling Victorian pile the bones of which are fine but which needs a lot of tlc inside. Oscar and Elfrida move in and love it immediately. But they're rattling around in it, so when Carrie and Lucy arrive for Christmas, Elfrida is delighted. She's one of these wonderful easy-going 'what will be, will be' kind of people who just get on with welcoming people and being lovely. I adored her.
There is not a huge amount of plot or action in this book so if that's your drug of choice this might not be your fix. It's really 500 pages of character-driven meanderings and thoughts and the delightfulness of an isolated Scottish village and its inhabitants as winter hits and Christmas approaches. (Inverness was an hour and a quarter by car and I tried to decide where the village was, I decided in the end that it was out near Ullapool but it could easily have been in several other directions.) I loved its gentleness and humanity to bits and now realise why the world and his mother-in-law wanted me to read Rosamunde Pilcher.