|Cold Enough To Freeze Cows by Lorraine Jenkin|
|Category: Women's Fiction|
|Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis|
|Summary: Lorraine Jenkin has achieved the impossible in her third romantic novel, by making Welsh hill farmers sexy and aspirational. Strong characters, cleverly-contrived plotline and thoroughly feel-good writing make this story unmissable.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 592||Date: July 2010|
|Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press|
|External links: Author's website|
Lorraine Jenkin is already well known for her wacky characters and outrageous plotlines. But taking on an archetypical boy next door romantic plot? I really thought that she would be forced onto the cliché-ridden path to a predictably happy ending. Well happy ending duly arrived, but via a completely unpredictable route, one that I could never have guessed in a month of Sundays, even by peeking at the last page before I started. And she ticked all the writing boxes along the way!
The story is built round a convincing framework of a warm, ribald, farming community in mid-Wales. One part of the story follows the romantic fortunes of childhood friends, Menna and Iestyn, as they stumble around after years of disillusion, secretly fancying the other. Around them are friends and family Johnny, Joe and Sima. Another strand develops round David, Esther and their spoilt daughter, Louisa. Poles apart from the farmers, the Harrison family's rocky course is what I'd loosely describe as a cautionary tale. The characters don't just interweave by chance, they bolt towards one another in magnetic rushes. The author never lets the web of the plot out of her firm grip; by the end, each character has been netted into the place allotted for him and every filament has been neatly finished and invisibly tucked away.
Lorraine Jenkin also has that great knack for picking out the defining detail that sets the scene. Within a few words I could sniff the Bevans' mucky farmyard and shiver alongside a beanie-hatted Iestyn in the freezing rain of an easterly wind. I often found myself nodding in recognition of her acute observation of the mundane environment of a small town. If you want to know why postmen wear shorts in winter or what to do if your car runs out of fuel on a Welsh hillside, then read on, for the author has the answer to anything her creative plot throws at her.
Menna Edwards is an unusual heroine for chick-lit, because there's not much of the chick about her. She's tough, practical and more at home in a rugby shirt with a pint of beer than hot pants and a glass of Chardonnay. Having established Menna's credentials in the farming community, Lorraine Jenkin drip feeds details about her past and present life until we are really rooting for her. If she fancied Iestyn, then so far as I was concerned, she just had to have him. And as for Paul, well she had to have him, too... on toast.
One of Jenkin's great strengths is her humanity. She deals with her characters even-handedly, even the ones who are old enough to know better. By using a multiple viewpoint technique she shows the important truth that everyone always tries to do their best (by their own lights). The resulting behaviours may seem bizarre to the other characters, and often comic to the reader, but the people-watching is unerring.
What I really admire about this author is her sympathetic acceptance of the physically less-than-attractive character. Like a Beryl Cooke illustration, the humour comes from the situation rather than poking fun at the person behind the overweight body. On the contrary, Lorraine Jenkin shows us exactly why two characters are attracted when she writes about the sensuality of ordinary, imperfect bodies. Writers at the chick-lit end of the market aren't usually as inclusive.
There's a robustness and optimism to a Lorraine Jenkin novel that I like very much indeed and I recommend Cold Enough to Freeze Cows every bit as strongly as Chocolate Mousse and Two Spoons and Eating Blackbirds.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book.
www.honno.co.uk gives details of this community co-operative's current list, all of which have a Welsh connection. To my mind, Cut on the Bias edited by Stephanie Tillotson is still the best, showcasing the publisher's collection of mainly new talent. For another marvellous evocation of Wales, try The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan.
You can read more book reviews or buy Cold Enough To Freeze Cows by Lorraine Jenkin at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Cold Enough To Freeze Cows by Lorraine Jenkin at Amazon.com.
Lorraine Jenkin was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.
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