You know when you are in trouble when you feel as though you need a thesaurus before you even start a review, but that’s how I felt when I put down Poppy Jenkins and reached for my Mac. How many superlatives can I find?
At the simplest level it is a mild, slow moving romance. Schoolgirls – best friends – torn apart, meeting years later and exploring the anger and misunderstandings old assumptions can cause. One the darling of the village, all gentle smiles and forgiving nature, the other the odd girl out who rebelled against the place and the people, escaping to what she deemed a better future, but paying a hefty price along the way.
The characters are rounded and wholesome, drawn with glorious attention to detail and loving humour. Grumpy gran, hippy-dippy mother, misdirected lesbian lovers, burley rugby lads and a scheming baddy, Ms Ashton fills the village with a wide ranging cast who provide a brilliant and entertaining counterpoint to our star crossed lovers.
The pastoral setting is coloured with the lightest of touches but a depth that brings it alive. From the valleys to the village square, Poppy’s bedroom to the café – every facet of the surroundings adds to the picture drawn and the sense of place. The Welshness of the people and the land provides a vivid backdrop that adds veracity and quaintness in equal measure.
As always in Ms Ashton’s novels she finds a place for some sizzling scenes, without them ever feeling gratuitous or misplaced. She somehow takes a mild mannered romance and segues into something steamy so seamlessly that you barely notice these nice girls are being decidedly naughty until the heat washes over you.
But beyond all of that this is a most exquisite piece of writing. The language is fulsome, rounded and glorious. The sentences flow across the page and into your heart and mind with genuine elegance. The story is a sophisticated, multi-layered odyssey. I have loved all her books to date, but this, without a doubt, reaches a new high in terms of the Austenesque literary accomplishment. It is, genuinely, a modest and tender romance, but suffused with a tone of voice and love of language which makes it feel like so much more.
Add in a huge dose of humour, which infuses the whole with the author’s affection for a subject both well known and precious, and you will find it hard not to fall in love with Poppy, her family and the modest village life. This is, simply, British writing at its best; witty, clever, beguiling and brilliant.
(publisher review copy received)
To buy from Amazon.com – click here.
To buy from Amazon.co.uk – click here.