Novel set in Hampshire (A Good Samaritan Story with a twist)
- Book: Hester and Harriet
- Location: Basingstoke
- Author: Hilary Spiers
As sisters Hester and Harriet are driving out over the Christmas period to visit relations, they spy a young woman hiding with a little baby in a bus shelter. They grind to a halt in their car and before they know it, they have invited her to stay with them, as she looks utterly miserable – and it is after all the season of goodwill. It also means they can turn the car around and go home, back to their cosy abode, and thus avoid their duty visit.
Daria and her son Milo are, it transpires, from Belarus and as the story unfolds they discover that she had to flee her homeland after her father and brother fell foul of the authorities there. This is not the country where hardy peasants in bright ethnic garb and stout boots cultivate the unforgiving soil, it is much bleaker….
Soon to join the party is their nephew, Ben, escaping his parents’ claustrophobic strictures (they were it seems just doing their parental thing). He morphs from a stereotypical grunting teenager into a young man who develops some good cooking skills under the sisters’ tutelage. So, for Hester and Harriet they suddenly have a house full of guests who need succour and food. And that’s what they do best!
But Daria’s nervousness is further heightened when a stranger calls at their door, looking for a mother and young child and soon the sisters are sleuthing away to understand what is going on.
This is an entertaining read set in Hampshire (the environs of Basingstoke to be precise), but specific locale is not an intrinsic feature of the book; yet it is indubitably English, it really couldn’t be set anywhere other than England.
I visualised the sisters with their eager tipples and culinary delights, as simulacrums of the cooks in the TV series Two Fat Ladies, Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson, an image ingrained in my imagination that simply would not budge. Or Miriam Margolyes or Rosemary Shrager in the TV show “The Real Marigold Hotel”…. With astutely observed characters, conniptions aplenty (yes, there are lots of unusual words peppering the text!), this novel has a light feel to it. It grazes the darker side of what it means to be a refugee, illustrates the issue of illegal immigration and balances it all with a good dollop of the kindness of strangers.
This review first appeared on our blog where we also talk to the author about writing and more….