Wednesday Book Review: The Winter Children

Published by Emma Lee-Potter in on Wednesday 9th December 2015

The Winter ChildrenTwo small children wander hand in hand through the snow-covered garden of a vast country mansion.

The Winter Children, Lulu Taylor’s seventh novel, has the prettiest cover I’ve seen in ages. More importantly, it’s a compelling story about unrequited love, jealousy and a woman’s all-consuming longing for children of her own.

When Olivia Felbeck gives birth to twins it seems that she has everything she could ever wish for. She and her husband Dan have battled for years to have children and finally their dreams of a family have been fulfilled. The only worry is that Dan has recently lost his job and Olivia’s freelance work as a garden writer doesn’t pay much. But then Dan’s glossy university friend Francesca steps in and offers them the chance to live rent-free in part of the vast Norfolk mansion she is renovating.

Despite Dan’s misgivings the couple accept and make an idyllic life for themselves. Everything changes, however, when Francesca arrives from her home in Geneva, laden with presents for the twins. After several weeks she shows no sign of leaving and Olivia starts to wonder what actually happened between Dan and Francesca when they were students at Cambridge. Not only that, why is Francesca, who has two children of her own, so obsessed with Olivia’s son and daughter?

The narrative switches back and forth between the present day and the late 1950s. In those days Francesca’s stately home was a girls’ boarding school and two teenage pupils constantly defied their teachers, sneaking out to assignations with the builders working on a new swimming pool.

Both strands of the novel are gripping, although in my view the haunting 1950s plotline is overshadowed by the story of Olivia, Dan and Francesca. Actually, Taylor could have written two separate novels, although the denouement of the boarding school story brings both stories together in a touching and skilful way.

The Winter Children is hugely enjoyable and would make a brilliant stocking-filler. Engrossing, poignant and beautifully observed, it kept me turning the pages till the early hours of the morning.

PS. Thank you to the Mumsnet Bloggers Network for asking me to review it.

The Winter Children by Lulu Taylor (Pan, £7.99)

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