Author Academy Elite, USA, 2019
Jeanie Green’s debut novel draws on her vast expertise with all things equestrian and her own life experiences in Scotland and semi-rural Victoria. She weaves her love of horses, dogs and other animals into this fast-moving tale of things fractured and repaired.
While romance provides the catalyst and the resolution for this story, the book also explores themes of family obligation, personal and group responsibility, the changing dynamics of relationships with age and stage, the nature of friendship, the nature of happiness and the evolving lives of women in the 21st century. Quite a feat! And all in a determinedly domestic and relatable milieu.
True to the romance genre, however, the author delves into broken and mended hearts and the dire consequences of communication breakdowns – this plays across several of the relationships upon which the book focuses: lovers, spouses, parents, children and friends.
There are in fact several story strands in The House Sitter, held together by the core plot element of Julie Larkham’s return after many years to her family home and employment nearby as a house sitter.
Julie is a horse woman who comes back to rural Victoria from Scotland where she has been working in a castle with her beloved Scotsman Mac. After an accident that puts her in hospital, a string of misunderstandings and failed communications leave her with a broken heart and the need to make her living. Her sister, the ever resourceful (if interfering) Bree sets her up in the house sitting job at the property of wealthy decorator Lily.
However, what should have been a simple job of caretaking engenders many more opportunities, as well as bringing with it a whole host of family dramas. Julie not only negotiates her way through the tangle of other people’s needs and wants, she must also bite her tongue on many occasions and forego her own desire for solitude, autonomy and some sort of chosen private social life. Family is a constant source of irritation – but as in real life, also a source of much needed comfort, connection and support.
The hectic pace of Julie’s life in Lily’s house is well portrayed by Jeanie Green, who shows an excellent capacity to write family dialogue. The author’s love of nature also shines through with evocative descriptive passages of the beauty of the landscape and the charm of the animals on the property, including those beautiful hairy Highland cattle, for which I confess a personal fondness.
Jeanie Green is an astute observer of human relationships and shows a particular understanding of the older woman and her changing role in society. Her portrayals are clear-eyed and sometimes sardonic, but not without affection. She is a kindly critical friend.
Details of the domestic are fulsome – there are many descriptions of food prepared for various social occasions, many of which are foisted upon Julie by her all-consuming family, and of the comfort that meals prepared by another can bring. We find ourselves wishing for a basket of Julie’s Mum’s scones. There is also a steely eye cast over the drinking habits of the characters and the problems that this often caused.
Satisfyingly for feel-good fiction, while many narrow misses occur in this story, only those who seem to deserve a come-uppance actually get one. We anticipate a happy outcome for the many story threads and their starring characters, and we are not disappointed.
Readers will look forward to the continuing Larkham family saga, perhaps seen from the eyes of other heroes and heroines. This first book seems destined to become a series, twisting, as it does, a great many threads which promise other adventures.
Thank you to Jeanie Green for generously providing me with a review copy.