An Inventory of Heaven by Jane Feaver

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An Inventory of Heaven by Jane Feaver

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An incisive look at family life and rural isolation which pulls you in and simply doesn't let you go. Impressive.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Corsair
ISBN: 978-1780330006

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Mavis Gaunt was evacuated to Shipleigh in Devon during World War II and went to live with her aunt. It wasn't just an escape from the dangers of London - it was a welcome relief from her parents' loveless marriage and in her mind it became a heavenly retreat. In her twenties and with her mother dead there was nothing to keep her in London so she headed back to Shipleigh. She struck up an unlikely friendship with Frances Upcott, one of three children of a reclusive farmer and, almost against her will, found herself drawn into the life of the farm. It gave her a sense of belonging but it ended in tragedy.

Years later - with Mavis now in her seventies - she strikes up a tentative friendship with Eve, the daughter of a woman who used to live in the village, and her young son Archie. Eve's naturally curious about the past and in piecing together her memories Mavis is finally able to lay her own ghosts to rest.

When I started reading An Inventory of Heaven I wasn't expecting much of Mavis Gaunt. She seemed like the standard old biddy you find in many a book. There are dozens in the village where I live and - being honest - I'm not that far off being one of them myself. So - I settled down with few expectations but there was something about the quality of the writing which kept pulling me back to the book. Jane Feaver has Mavis Gaunt's voice perfectly and she's a superb narrator, honest, self-effacing and with forensic powers of observation.

The real skill is in the construction ofthe book. Memory doesn't start at the beginning and work its way through chronologically. Memory is triggered by some external event and taken back in time. It skitters about - sometimes annoyingly so - and then settles somewhere else. And this is the structure of the book - but it's never annoying. It's intriguing. It pulls you in as you build the story in your own mind, adjusting and refining as you learn a little more. It was never frustrating - I was in the hands of someone who knew what they were doing and I was more than happy to take it at her pace.

Feaver knows the countryside too. She understands village life - and by extension family life - and she's pitch perfect on isolation and how it affects people, on how difficult it is to cope when you're not isolated. It's great stuff and I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy God's Own Country by Ross Raisin but for more from Devon - and Jane Feaver - have a look at Love Me Tender.

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