“It’s exactly how Kitty always pictured it… except in her head, she wasn’t standing here alone”
- Book: The Little House By The Sea
- Location: London, South Wales
- Author: Tracy Rees
In the short July spell of record breaking intense heat, the coolest pace has definitely been in a cool dark room, with a craving for an easy-reading, ‘comfort’ story, to see me through. I read this lovely book in just a couple of days, although I feel sure that if I had been able to secure a dedicated ‘bibliotherapy’ session (yes! that really is a word), I could have safely powered through it in a day, whilst still enjoying what would seem like a leisurely read.
So let’s get down to a potted version of the storyline first, although the premise really does already include a few small ‘spoilers’…
Admin assistant for a London based interior design company, Kitty and her partner Mitch, live in a dingy flat whilst they are saving for the deposit on a house, closer to the suburbs and nearer to her older sister Cooper and her family. Kitty spends every moment of her spare time drooling over the estate agent’s window, wishing that she could work there, as she loves to imagine herself living in the properties that come up for sale and how she would decorate them to their best advantage, with the ultimate aim of matching the right property with the ideal buyers and not just selling stock through for a quick sale. From Kitty’s point of view, every property has a unique personality and she knows exactly what her own dream place would look like.
However, in the space of just a few short weeks, Kitty’s world is about to implode spectacularly and she is set to lose everything in her life in one fell swoop, leaving her desolate and inconsolable. Fearing the ridicule of a very straight talking Cooper, Kitty is loathe to divulge the source of the help she seeks when trying to rebuild her shattered dreams, but suffice to say, the advice she receives turns out to be spot on and invaluable. Searching for the new beginning she has been advised to seek, Kitty finds herself taking a short six month lease on a seaside property, in a pretty village in South Wales, which the family used to visit when Cooper, Kitty and younger sister Cassidy were children and before the split between her parents, which ended in divorce.
For the first few days, Kitty is content to explore the local area and just take some time for herself, to regroup her thoughts and unravel her mixed up emotions. Everyone who spoke to her, commented on how familiar she looked, but none were willing to engage in conversation with her and she begins to feel like a complete outsider in this small insular community, where everyone knows everybody else – and all their private business too! She is almost at the point of kicking the tenancy agreement and the whole notion of a bright new start into the long grass, when by chance she meets young wife and mother, Cherry, and almost instantly her mood and spirits are lifted, by this cheery force of nature, whose eternal optimism, love of life and making the most of all the chances which come her way, is infectious and the best tonic Kitty could have found. Not only has she discovered in Cherry, a firm and loyal friend, but an oracle of local knowledge, so when she suggests that rather than simply idle away her six months grace period, Kitty should perhaps find some part-time work, the solution comes as part of the package and Kitty soon finds herself in her dream job, with arguably the most congenial and generous boss Roly, and group of co-workers she could have imagined.
Life for Kitty chugs along quite nicely for a few weeks. Thanks to Cherry, her path towards community acceptance is assured and even red-carpeted in many cases. The property vendors and indeed prospective buyers, warm to her obvious enthusiasm for the job and even her fractured family are minded to change their opinions and approve of her decision to put down roots, when they see how happy and contented she is with her new life. There is one big crease which needs ironing out however, instigated by Cooper who insists she knows what she heard as a child, when they took their last family holiday in Pennystrand, and this could be the make or break of Kitty’s final choice. She makes Kitty promise that she ask her father to be upfront and honest with her, so Kitty manages to track him down and puts him right on the spot with Cooper’s allegations. To say he is aghast, is putting it mildly. It seems as though Cooper is way off the mark, with the separation and divorce having been instigated by their mother, who in his opinion, should have told the girls the truth many years ago, and who must still speak for herself on the matter. When Kitty puts two and two together in her own mind, she asks her mother outright just how close to the truth she is and Tilly comes clean, which explains so many of the aside remarks and glances Kitty has been receiving from the villagers in general and one family in particular.
Kitty’s love life takes a bit of an uptick too, temporary as it might be, so by the time it comes to making her mind up about the lease on her property, she has already decided that Pennystrand is where she belongs, once she has laid down some boundaries for her new found family; which is just as well, because Roly has already indicated that her temporary part-time job is set to become a permanent and full-time position, and he thinks he might have found just the place for her to buy, which should suit her down to the ground, as it does. Is her romance with the hunky Cory about to flourish too, which would really be the icing on the cake!
Whilst on the whole, this was quite a predictable and formulaic, feel-good storyline, there were one or two twists which added extra layers, were unique and intriguing, and which I didn’t fully work out ahead of the reveal. Author Tracy Rees, has a delightfully fluent, effortless and personable style of storytelling, which is immersive and relaxing, textured and rich in atmosphere, compelling and obviously written from the heart. The story was narrated in short, seamless chapters, which kept everything moving forward towards its conclusion at a steady pace, whilst some lovely descriptive passages were seamlessly woven in, bringing the charming coastal location to life, which really resonated with me, as this would also be my ideal style of living, even if not in that exact spot. Everything exuded a calming aura of peace and serenity, conducive to the healing, soothing balm, which Kitty was seeking as the new beginning to rebuild her fractured life. I would have been a little happier if Tracy had used real place names, which I could have tracked on the map, but that is just the ‘nerd’ in me I’m sure, and I am certain that most ‘armchair travellers’ would have been more than happy with their journey.
A quite large cast of lovingly drawn, engaging and well developed characters, are reliable, authentic, easy to connect with and relate to, sharing some great dynamics, energy and synergy between them. It was so easy to imagine that I was listening to them telling their own story, as they have been given such a strong and animated voice, by an author who is clearly confident in the imagery her words can conjure up. I guess the one person who bucked the trend was Mitch, who was just a self-centred individual, full of his own importance and ego, who felt that by clicking his fingers and saying all the right words, he would have Kitty at his feet, begging to be taken back. There were a couple of other characters who at first seemed rather remote, aloof and full of their own importance. However, as the mystery surrounding Kitty unravelled, it became clear why they had adopted that deliberate stance. Although still not sure about her own connection with their fractured lives, Kitty immediately detected an inner sadness, which she perceptively managed to work out and alleviate for them, despite the fact it might have laid her career on the line, before it had even truly begun. Luckily she and Roly are like minded individuals when it comes to making sure that the right person is paired with the ideal home, so he backed Kitty’s decisions, rather than berating her for having made them.
This was a story of new beginnings. Chasing a dream if it is at all attainable and you don’t damage anyone else in the process. Learning how good life in a relationship can be if both people are singing from the same song sheet and the giving isn’t all one sided. How much more fulfilling a job can be if it is the right one for you and you can be passionate about what you do. It also highlights the long-term misunderstandings and indeed damage, which can be done in crisis, when children are not treated with the honesty and respect they deserve as mini adults. Half heard and imagined truths, seen and heard by a child, will often be remembered completely out of context, as Cooper discovers in the book, but not until her middle-age years, when she has spent her life protecting Kitty and Cassidy from an imagined wrong. And most important of all, after the love of family are the lasting and enduring friendships we make along our way through life.
Perhaps I am reading far more into this storyline than the author ever intended, and obviously for now, Kitty is living her utopian idyll and enjoying every moment of it, which is what makes occasional escapism reading so uplifting. As the title of the book suggests, this is either the first in a new series, or there is at least a sequel in the offing, so perhaps I shall get to catch up with Kitty again, just to see how things are working out – And perhaps more importantly, find out if the ‘auntie’ gin drinking sessions have become a regular feature!
I read for a whole range of reasons, but among them are enjoyment, entertainment, escapism and emotion. This story soundly ticked all those boxes and more besides.