The Prodigal Wife by Marcia Willett
Yes! This book was so much better than the first one of Marcia Willett's I read earlier this year. I was hoping that first one could be blamed on "first novel syndrome" and that her writing would improve with each book and thankfully, this one was much better.
In "The Prodigal Wife" the main character is...a house, the family home of the Chadwicks which they call "The Keep". It's a house full of memories, a large estate in England where several generations of Chadwicks have always lived under the same roof. Large and beautiful, but more comfortable than grand, it is the setting for much of this story.
The current residents of "The Keep" include Prue, the Chadwick grandmother, her son Hal and his wife Fliss, Hal's son Jolyon, Sam, a 12 year old cousin who came to live with the family when his parents died, and Lizzie, who was Sam's nanny and stayed on to help Jolyon in his gardening business. It's not as complicated as it sounds because each character is unique and has a distinctive, well-detailed personal story.
Maria, who is Hal's ex-wife and Jolyon's mother, causes all sorts of complications when she comes back into their lives after ignoring them for years, and Jolyon meets and falls for Henrietta, the daughter of Cordelia, an old family acquaintance who thinks she is being stalked. There are plenty of story lines which gives it a nice depth.
There are so many things to enjoy in this book: the characters are realistic and interesting, the setting - both the house and the English countryside - is addicting, and the story is complicated, as real life tends to be. I'd grown so attached to these people and their house that I was sorry to arrive at the last chapter.
Willett's writing makes for much better reading now, but I still don't think I can agree with all the comparisons being made to Maeve Binchy or Rosamunde Pilcher. They are in a league of their own when it comes to story-telling. But...this is a good, well-told story and I'm looking forward to reading her other novels, all of which I hope will be as satisfyingly British and comfortingly human as "The Prodigal Wife".