HENS DANCING by Raffaella Barker


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A popular British journalist chronicles a year in the life of an English single mother.

Recently divorced Venetia Summers doesn’t miss her philandering ex, even when a lonely Valentine’s Day comes and goes. She soldiers on, raising three children on her own with a little help from her eccentric mum. Fortunately, her boisterous young sons, Giles and Felix, are independent by nature, and everyone dotes on her baby daughter, known simply as the Beauty. Besides, Venetia’s dilapidated house in rural Norfolk keeps her too busy to brood, especially when David Lanyon, an attractive local contractor, begins some much-needed renovation. She heads for her personal sanctuary, the sprawling garden, where there’s a lot to do, such as clipping overgrown hedges and her giant topiary chicken, plus coping with a wayward dog in heat and its panting suitors, as well as with a venerable cat with an appalling talent for hacking up hairballs in the worst possible places. And so forth. Venetia commiserates with girlfriends, takes seaside holidays with the children and solo excursions to London now and then. Being single isn’t so bad, she realizes, especially since she doesn’t have to worry overmuch about money, thanks to her part-ownership of ex-husband Charles’s successful company, Heavenly Petting. This odd business, the only unlikely element in an otherwise delightfully down-to-earth story, is a one-stop funeral provider for parakeets and similar small creatures, offering cremation and miniature coffins, along with plaques testifying to the merits of the dear departed. Eventually, the self-centered Charles remarries, and his new wife is soon pregnant with twins, which, in Venetia’s opinion, serves him right. Life goes on, the seasons change, and David finds more and more reasons to come around. One year later, to the day, he presents her with a unique Valentine of his own creation: a small but perfect knot garden.

Understated but evocative prose makes this lighthearted romance a pleasure to read.

Pub Date: Feb. 28th, 2001
ISBN: 0-375-50386-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15th, 2000