Oliver and Kate met officially one afternoon in Oxford when they were young, she fell off her bike and they snuck a look at Kate’s creepy aunt’s house. Oliver’s family moved to Milton Keynes before they get to say goodbye, but they meet and get together years later at a party when Kate has just inherited the house amidst some controversy. After quitting his city job that he hates Oliver goes to Oxford to do up the house and finds himself enchanted by it and the diaries he finds in the books there. These engrossing letters tell of a woman in an unhappy marriage seeking comfort at the Bodlein, and an unlikely guide. The story Oliver chases has direct impact on the present for both his life plans and the ownership of the house.
I don’t know why but I kind of put off reading this book. I can’t believe it – it’s definitely in the top books I’ve read this year! So much so that I’m skipping all the other reviews I need to write to give it a shoutout. A beautiful sense of place, compelling dual timelines, lovely sympathetic characters, opposition of old and new and overall a sense of trust. I knew very quickly that this narrator was not going to mess me around. I wasn’t going to be disappointed. I enjoyed this thoroughly!
This was probably the BEST example I’ve ever seen of a dual timeline plot playing out. Oliver is discovering secrets about the house and it’s occupants of the past, and I felt like I was on the journey of discovery with him. The challenge with this type of thing is towards the end, somehow, the two time periods pretty much have to interact for it to be satisfying. I have never seen it done so well.
I also really enjoyed the portrayal of life; social media, friendship pressures, life in the big city – and particularly Kate as a part of that. In many ways the way she was described set her up to be a sympathetic heroine. They met in their youth, he rescued her, she had long blonde hair and was gorgeous. But she really was not that – the anti-stereotype pleased me greatly.
Plus the house itself and it’s mystery fully sucked me in. I understood and sympathised completely with Oliver’s feeling and passion for it. It was a great placeholder to pull together various character’s rather removed stories; a centrepiece to arrange the stories around. And a topic we maybe don’t read or write about that often: the love of a house.
I made my Mum read this as soon as I saw her, and interrupted her every five minutes to see how she was doing. She loved it too. I’m going to look for more books by this author – I was also lucky enough to meet her at the event where I was given the book. I can’t recommend this any more thoroughly!
Thanks for the copy Rooftopbook club, and the awesome event and amazing food and time on your awesome roof garden. Hope to see you again soon!