Second novel, first US publication from Britisher Challis: a surprisingly affecting tale about an old lady’s (and an old horse’s) last chance for the grand life.
When plucky Maeve Delaney finds herself in London with only 35 quid, she reluctantly decides it’s time to find some sort of work. With help from best friend Sophie (they went to a posh girls’ school together; Maeve’s vagabond life is her own choice), Maeve lands a job as caregiver to Lady Pamela. Since injuring her hip, Lady Pamela has been wasting away in the Somerset countryside, knowing that soon either death or her daughter-in-law Bunty (who’s got extravagant ideas about remodeling Lady Pam’s house for herself) will be removing her from her beloved Charlton House. Death would be a welcome relief from old age, but to be placed in an old folk’s home—that’s more than the proud Lady can bear. Unbeknownst to everyone, Maeve is to the rescue. A sort of wild, foul-mouthed, sexy Mary Poppins, Maeve isn’t bullied by Lady Pamela’s haughty ways, and in no time has the old girl out of bed and up for garden strolls, installs cable for the new big-screen TV, and includes a nice stiff drink with their evening meals. Soon Maeve discovers the existence of Irish Dancer, Lady Pam’s racehorse that was a serious contender before an injury that’s now behind her. Maeve and Lady Pam conspire to bring Irish Dancer back into form, which of course gives Lady Pamela a new lease on life as well. Though her plot’s simple, Challis peoples her tale with an assortment of likable characters: Sophie, who is struggling to reinvent herself after her husband left her with twin toddlers to raise; gentleman Sam, Lady Pam’s longtime beau; and Matt, the country vet. An interesting twist saves the story from becoming too chirpy and full of false good will.
Hardly a Booker contender, but an enjoyable bedtime read.