Lecouteur’s debut novel reveals family and farm life in England during the period between the two World Wars.
The novel plunges readers straight into the dynamics of the Thomas family: Fred, his wife, Dorothy, and their four daughters. Fred is a World War I veteran settling into farm life, and Dorothy, the daughter of a well-off farmer, is more comfortable working in the family’s dairy than she is keeping house. As the Thomas’ face the trials and tribulations of running a successful farm in the remote English countryside, they must also grapple with the challenges faced by every Brit during the period between the two World Wars: economic hardship, war-ravaged infrastructure and a rapidly changing society. The characters themselves, however, are not as quick to change. Dorothy remains entrenched in Victorian values and Fred is portrayed as hard-working but emotionally disengaged. Regardless what they exhibit publicly, these characters have rich inner lives, which the author depicts poignantly; Dorothy’s personal disappointments are particularly resonant, especially her wish for a son and the post-partum depression she experiences after giving birth to her youngest child. But readers may struggle to connect with her character: Dorothy is not particularly likable or endearing, and tends to browbeat the other members of her family. Fred doesn’t come off much better, content to let the battle rage between mother and daughters. The strength of this tale lies in its descriptions of farm life. Whether recounting a failed crop or the arrival of new poultry, the author offers readers a glimpse inside early 20th-century farm life and how that pans out for a group of women thrust into traditionally male roles. That said, the descriptions of rural life can be quite lengthy and pedantic; whole chapters are dedicated to the rearing of various farm animals, housework and a survey of the surrounding farmland. Impatient readers may be put off by the author’s attention to detail.
A richly descriptive debut novel that evokes English farm life in the post-World War I period.