This is the winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and shortlisted for the Impac Dublin Prize. "A wonderful novel. Wise and generous to a fault of all our human failings and frailties". (Lloyd Jones, author of Mister Pip). A Dutch woman rents a remote farm in rural Wales. She says her name is Emilie. She has left her husband, having confessed to an affair.
In Amsterdam, her stunned husband forms a strange partnership with a detective who agrees to help him trace her.
They board the ferry to Hull on Christmas Eve. Back on the farm, a young man out walking with his dog injures himself and stays the night, then ends up staying longer.
Yet something is deeply wrong. Does he know what he is getting himself into? And what will happen when her husband and the detective arrive?
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 240 pages
- Publisher: Vintage Publishing
- Publication Date: 07/03/2013
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9780099563679
Showing 1 - 3 of 3 reviews.
Review by nfmgirl2
The woman appears almost mysteriously, renting the little cottage recently left empty after the previous owner died. She keeps to herself and spends her time fixing up the place. Enter the young man on a journey with his dog, and they all find a quiet existence together. This was a very quiet, slow-moving story. It sort of reminded me of a little known Sean Connery movie called Five Days One Summer. Just slow and meandering, light on the dialogue, picturesque.The setting for this story is a very idyllic place, with things like “the kissing gate”, the stone circle, geese, pond, and charming bakers in town.I had no idea how much of a "mystery" this story would be. The character Emily is mysterious. You don't know why she is at this cottage, and are given glimpses into her other life. You don't know who this boy is that shows up with his dog, or what his intentions are. What about the other characters? Who was the woman who lived in the cottage before Emily? And what about those darn geese and sheep? Who do they belong to?There are allusions early on to Emily's failing health, but this isn't clarified until later on. Perhaps this is the reason she is so impersonal and nondescript. The boy is generally referred to as “the boy” and the dog as “the dog”. Names are rarely used. She doesn’t want to be personally involved, and wants to be alone.My final word: This story was well-written, and beautifully descriptive, making it easy for me to see the green hills, stone walls, quaint cottage, elusive geese. I didn't realize just how much of a mysterious bent the story would carry, but I enjoyed it. And it really sparked an interest in Emily Dickinson, with little blurbs of Dickinson poetry throughout. My one complaint is that there were a few dangling plotlines that left me hanging. Characters and ideas would be introduced only to fade away, questions arose and were left unanswered. But overall I enjoyed it. If you enjoy a quiet story with beautiful scenery, give this one a shot.
Review by SandDune
An initially unnamed Dutch woman leaves her husband and her country, and finds herself in an isolated cottage in North Wales. There are hints of an affair with a student at the University in which she taught, and where she was completing her thesis on Emily Dickinson. Unfamiliar with country living she gradually comes to terms with her surroundings, and with the needs of the ten geese which she has acquired with the rental of the house and which are disappearing one by one. Into this solitary existence comes Rhys Jones, a neighbouring farmer, who Emilie (or is it Agnes) finds repulsive, and Bradwen, a young student who stays in the cottage after a chance encounter. Back in the Netherlands the abandoned husband discovers that her affair was not the only secret his wife was keeping, and resolves to follow her. So far so good but I also found many things to irritate me about this book, starting with this sentence: 'Rhys Jones looked like a caricature of a Welshman: a broad face, thick greasy hair, watery eyes, unshaven'. And having got me indignant on behalf of my fellow countrymen, the book proceeded to annoy me in a number of other ways. A sense of place is something that's very important to me, but it's something I didn't get from The Detour. I mean it's November ... in Snowdonia ... and yet the weather seems to be warm enough to encourage the main character to strip off and lie naked in the sun, or bathe in newly discovered pools. Where are the howling gales, and the mist, and the rain that goes on for day after day? And then there are the factual errors about life in Britain that jarred, and further detracted from my enjoyment of the book: a doctor chain smoking in his surgery while seeing patients is one of these (it's been illegal to smoke in any workplace or enclosed public place for some years now, and for years before that it would have been unthinkable to smoke in that particular environment.) And this comment about a ferry from the Netherlands to Hull left me wondering whether the author had ever been on a ferry in his life: 'This boat wasn't set up for meals: it left at 9pm and docked at nine the next morning. The husband and policeman couldn't find any breakfast.' Really? On a twelve hour ferry journey? In my (fairly extensive) experience of ferries the main aim of ferry operators is to get the travellers to spend as much money on food and drink as is humanly possible. You can always get breakfast. And dinner. And lunch. And snacks in between.But above all my main problem with the book is that none of the character's actions make the slightest sense to me. I'm quite happy with a certain amount of ambiguity, but there wasn't a single character whose motivations I felt I could even begin to guess at. So by the end of the book I had very little idea of what the point of it all had been. Overall, then, a disappointment, which was a shame as I'd had this one of my wish list for a while and had expected to like it. But no more than adequate for me I'm afraid.
Review by riverwillow
I can’t make up my mind about this book. On the one hand it’s a wonderfully atmospheric read, on the other elements of the story are so obscure and abstract book this becomes a frustrating elusive story to read. Having said all of that, conversely I loved all the mysteries in the book, why did she leave Rotterdam, was she really ill, bitten by badger, etc.? I really liked the unreality of the setting and how her perception of events flips between reality and seeming hallucination. This is maybe one of those books I need to sit with for a time and possibly re-read before I can make up my mind.