Title: A Place for Us by Harriet Evans
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Contemporary, Fiction
Length: 450 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From international bestselling author Harriet Evans, an engrossing new novel about a woman who, on the eve of her eightieth birthday, decides to reveal a secret that may destroy her perfect family.
The day Martha Winter decided to tear apart her family began like any other day.
When Martha, a wife and mother of three, sits down one late summer’s morning to write out the invitations to her eightieth birthday celebration, she knows that what she is planning to reveal at the party could ruin the idyllic life she and her husband David have spent over fifty years building…
But she has to let her family know what she and David have sacrificed. She can’t live a lie any more.
The invitation goes out far and wide, calling her three children and their families back home to Winterfold, their rambling house in the heart of the English countryside. They are Bill, the doctor; Florence, the eccentric academic; and Daisy, the child who never fit in. As the story unfolds, each character reveals the secrets, joys, and tragedies they are wrestling with through the confines of the family. What will happen when Martha finally tells the truth?
In A Place for Us by Harriet Evans, the Winter family reunites after receiving their invitations for matriarch Martha’s eightieth birthday celebration. The mysterious message included with the invitation causes a bit of a panic with each of the invitees due to their fear that their secrets are about to be revealed. This sprawling novel weaves back and forth between past and present and despite the sometimes slow pacing, it is an intriguing read.
As the story opens, Martha has decided the time for keeping secrets is over and in spite of her husband David’s plea to reconsider, she is quite firm in her decision. Each of the family members are worried about the upcoming revelation but they all know they must attend the party.
Their son Bill is the only child still living in the local area and while he is not overly concerned about what Martha is about to share, his wife Karen is afraid that she knows what Martha has to say. Daughter Florence is mildly curious and at first she has doubts about returning home from Italy, but a personal and professional betrayal changes her mind. Daughter Daisy has lived in India for years rarely returning home and no one really expects her to show up for the party. Granddaughter Cat (Daisy’s daughter) moved to Paris years earlier and after a failed relationship, she distanced herself from the rest of the family. Bill’s daughter Lucy is struggling to keep her job and her suggestion to write an article about her family is met with excitement by her boss and dismay by her family.
Each chapter is written from a different character’s perspective, so crucial background information is slowly revealed about their lives, both past and present. While Bill has a successful medical practice, his second marriage is beginning to falter and his wife Karen is becoming more and more dissatisfied with their union. Florence is a renowned professor of art history and she is shocked to discover her ex-lover is trying to oust her from her teaching position. Angered by his betrayal, she finally decides to return for Martha’s party and at the same time, she begins court proceedings against him. Daisy remains a rather enigmatic figure but it is clear that she is deeply troubled and that her family has very good reasons to fear her return. Cat is struggling financially and although she has serious reservations about returning home, at the last minute she decides to attend the party but no one is prepared for the changes in her life since her last visit.
The first half of the novel is a little slow moving and some of the time shifts are a little confusing. The chapters are clearly marked so it is easy to keep up with which character is currently “speaking” but some of their timelines switch mid-paragraph as they reminisce about different events in their lives. Each of the characters is well-developed with a distinct voice and their lives, both past and present, are quite fascinating. The pacing of the story picks about halfway through and the last half moves much more quickly as secrets are revealed and their lives become more entangled as they are reunited through tragedy.
A Place for Us is an emotional family saga with a complex storyline and a cast of interesting characters. Harriet Evans brings the setting and characters vibrantly to life and although the storyline is somewhat somber, the conclusion is quite upbeat and positive. All in all, it is a lovely character driven story with a unique plot and endearing characters.