Reading A Country Escape leaves me with a greater appreciation … for cheese. That’s right, you heard me.
Author Katie Fforde is well-known for her painstaking research when it comes to her books. In this instance, she has poured a fair amount of detail into cheese-making – or rather, its challenges – so much so you’re invested in protagonist Fran Duke’s quest to make the perfect cheese. Fforde cleverly weaves the right amount of information without getting too technical. (See interview with Fforde here.)
Fran, you see, has always wanted to be a farmer. And now it looks as if her childhood dream is about to come true.
Leaving behind her comfortable London life, Fran moves into a beautiful but run-down farm in the Cotswolds.
Hill Top Farm is owned by an old aunt who tells Fran that if she manages to turn the place around in a year, the farm will be hers. But Fran knows nothing about farming. She might even be afraid of cows!
Fran is going to need a lot of help from her best friend Issi, who moves in with Fran temporarily. There’s also Anthony, her wealthy and very eligible neighbour – who might just have his own reasons for being so supportive. Is it the farm he is interested in? Or Fran herself?
This being a novel by romance queen Fforde, there is a romantic thread running through the story; Fran, predictably, falls for Anthony. But I find the greatest romance to be between Fran and the farm she hopes to inherit, which has its own starring role along with the beautiful countryside setting.
From beginning to end, Fforde’s descriptions of Hill Top Farm are entrancing – they make me want to move there myself.
“The farmhouse was on a plateau at the top of a hill that overlooked hills and wooded valleys,” writes Fforde. “Beyond them lay the Severn, a silver snake in the far distance, and beyond the river was Wales.”
What I found ultimately lacking is the development of the humans that inhabit the novel; heck, even the cows seem to have more personality.
The main characters Fran and Anthony are likeable, but they are so saintly, seemingly devoid of any flaws. For instance, Anthony is described as “gorgeous, really nice, good and kind and well off” – all fine and dandy, but that does not an intriguing romantic lead make.
On the other extreme, the story’s villain is painted as one-dimensional. That’s the ghastly Roy, who turns up (halfway through the book) insisting that he’s going to inherit the farm and not Fran.
Everything that Roy says and does demonstrate what an evil person he is, making him a person you’d hate through and through. He does not have a single redeeming quality. What’s worse, his story arc is given an abrupt ending after all the good guys vs bad guys build-up.
In real life, things aren’t always black and white, there exist areas of grey. People aren’t completely bad nor are they total angels in my humble opinion. Giving the characters more layers and substance would have made the book a better – and more interesting – read.
As it is, A Country Escape provides a pleasant enough form of escapism. But it is an excursion that’s too predictable.
A Country Escape
Author: Katie Fforde
Publisher: Century/Penguin Random House, fiction