A debut novel that tells the unlikely story of an English farm wife and a Danish museum curator through their spirited correspondence.
Loneliness draws them together—that and their keen interest in the prehistoric Tollund Man, whose perfectly preserved head is on display in Denmark’s Silkeborg museum. Tina Hapgood has always wanted to visit there from her home in East Anglia; but having passed her 60th birthday, she doubts she ever will. Anders Larsen—intercepting a note she’s written to the (now deceased) archaeologist who discovered the Tollund Man in 1950—encourages her to make the trip. And so it begins. Tina, we learn from her letters, married at 20 and had the first of her three children shortly thereafter. Her marriage is loveless, and she has many regrets about roads not taken. Anders, a widower with two grown children, loved his wife deeply; but the marriage was fraught owing to her emotional fragility. Tina and Anders exchange confidences, and their connection—though limited to written exchanges—becomes more intimate. (In a nod to modern technology, the pair eventually shifts from letters to emails.) The book proceeds at a leisurely pace until close to the end, when a major plot turn seems to change everything. Or does it? The writing is, for the most part, poised and literate; and Tina’s descriptions of the natural world she knows so well can be quite lovely. Unfortunately, she sounds way too sophisticated given the cloistered life she is supposed to have led. There is also an overly earnest quality to some of what Tina and Anders write to one another: “We have been talking to each other about where life went, and if the way we spent it was the way we meant to have spent it….” (Tina) “Our letters have meant so much to us because we have…arrived at the same point in our lives. More behind us than ahead of us. Paths chosen that define us.” (Anders)
Though well-crafted, this genteel novel never quite achieves liftoff.