Review of The Summer House by Marcia Willett
Matt and Imogen’s childhood was difficult, dealing with their mother’s depression and alcoholism, but they never understood her until Matt follows the clues left behind after her death. Surrounded by good friends who love them like their own children, Imogene and Matt have much to be grateful for, but will they realize that in time to set their future as adults on the right path?
Matt inherited a treasure box of his mother’s, which contains all the things he remembers from when he was a child. But, the fact that there are also several pictures of him and none of his sister in the box seems so strange that he can’t stop contemplating why. Never mind that he can’t remember the pictures being taken, the setting or the toys in them.
Matt and his sister, Imogen, had a hard life with their mother after their father died. Their mom wasn’t ever quite right after that, frequently depressed, often drinking, and eventually dealing with liver disease because of it. Luckily, they had Milo and Lottie, good friends who tried to make the siblings’ life as normal as possible.
Imogen’s nature is always upbeat and not the melancholy or listlessness that Matt seems to always feel. Matt remembers a time when his mother was happy and not the mother whom Imogen has never understood. Now that he’s a successful author with an international bestseller, Matt seems to be more lost than ever. Is he a one book wonder, or will his search for that missing something in his life pull him out of his muse-less funk? Imogen seems happily married to a local veterinarian with a beautiful child of her own, so why can’t Matt allow anyone close to him in the same way? And really, are any of them truly as happy as they seem?
Then there’s war veteran Milo’s bossy ex-wife who can’t keep her opinions to herself; their son, Nick, with his financial problems; and Milo’s mistress, Venetia, who craves his attention, when Milo prefers a more regimented lifestyle or quiet time in the garden or kitchen. Imogen and her husband, Julian, live close to Milo and Lottie so they visit frequently, and then there’s Matt’s “friend not girlfriend,” Annabelle, who makes everyone wonder why Matt continues to invite her “home”. Since Nick’s marital bliss is strained at the moment, he relies on renewing his friendship with Imogen, hoping she has the answers that he doesn’t.
They all converge at Milo’s High House which shares its garden with the Summer House, hoping to sort out their problems amongst the camaraderie of family and friends. The High House and the Summer House have some answers and cause some more problems, but the aura they create seems to envelope their inhabitants.
It took me a bit to sort out all the characters in this book but by the middle I was charmed by them, laughing and crying as they plow through life’s obstacles. I especially enjoyed the no-nonsense “sight-gifted” Lottie and the witty sarcasm from Venetia. Lottie oftentimes frightens her friends with her uncanny ability to know something without being told. Venetia pines after her youth, but her roundabout way of feigning politeness while stating what she thinks about others’ actions is entertaining. Can being in her seventies excuse her for such outrageous behavior?
This work of fiction often makes you think you know this place or the people in it, or wish you did. From young to old, they’ve relied on each other for so long that there’s an imbalance if one of them experiences a challenge. Even though there’s a great deal of love expressed, this isn’t a traditional love story or romance, but more of a family saga with an unraveling mystery, where even the houses sometimes seem like one of the characters. There are relationships rediscovered, reunited and sometimes left as something of the past, while each of them find their way.
At the end, this novel made me smile, but it also left me with a sense of longing for what we’re left to wonder. THE SUMMER HOUSE makes you feel like you’ve visited with old friends on holiday and hopeful for the next chapter in their lives.
What’s on your mountain?