[At a beach house in Cornwall, 1978]
Slowly, head down, he ambled towards the porch steps. But as he threw his shoes down on them a low, lilting voice said, ‘Oh, hello. I’m so glad someone’s here! I was starting to wonder. The radio’s on inside but no one’s answering. This is Anthony Wilde’s house, isn’t it?’ Ben, blinking in the shade of the porch after the glare of the sun, saw a long skirt, long top, floppy hat, long hair. Ever alert to danger, he peered towards the plumpish figure, suddenly scared of the low voice and thinking it might be a man in disguise – he’d heard that’s how they sometimes operated, dressing up as women – but then he shook himself. That wasn’t a man.
‘I’m his – I’m Ben.’ He wondered where Mumma and Daddy were. Hadn’t they gone back ages ago? The woman – though really she was more of a girl, not that old – leaned forward. ‘Hello, Ben. It’s lovely to meet you.’
commentary: So if I told you I’d read a book that was a cross between those blog favourites Daphne du Maurier and Noel Streatfeild, only modern, you’d be longing to read it wouldn’t you? Well this is that book. Of course many people have discovered and already love Wildflowers, but I’m sure there are other people like me who need to be told…
I’ve known Harriet Evans via Twitter for a while, and we share many a books (and clothes in books) taste, so I should have known I'd love her writing.
Wildflowers is about a theatrical family, multi-generational, lots of secrets and dramas, and the house they used to visit every year in Cornwall.
--Oh – you want more? Isn’t that really just enough to make you want to read the book? OK.
There is an introduction:
My father was my hero, he gave us a golden childhood, but the past was always going to catch up with him . . . it comes for us all, sooner or later. This is my story. I am Cordelia Wilde. A singer without a voice. A daughter without a father. Let me take you inside.
The story runs from 1975 to roughly now, but also goes back in time to WW2 and has a large cast of characters, beautifully handled. And, Evans does tell us what people are wearing. The book combines descriptions of amazing summer holidays, the tensions of any family, the special tensions where the patriarch is a major theatrical figure, and the secrets that have messed everybody up.
It was splendid, full of surprises and unexpected twists and turns, and has a hilariously convincing teenage diary as one of its joys.
And is yet another book which I’m sure many people would describe as ‘family saga’ or ‘chicklit’ or ‘beach read’. And it IS those things, but without the dismissive overtone. There’s a Catch-22 in which I don’t want to imply that being any of those things is in any way unimportant, but I also wish there was more recognition for this kind of book: it’s a proper novel.
And now I have all her back catalogue to work my way through…
Pictures from women’s magazine of the time. The black and white pic is probably what Belinda looked like, but I very much liked the long t-shirt dress: women’s summer clothes at this time were on a cusp between these two looks, including hair and makeup. The t-shirt dress came, as you see, in 3 different colours, and cost £5.95, a bargain even in 1978 I feel. Her 70s perm will have cost more than that.