Book review: Love, Lies and Linguine by Hilary Spiers

(cover image courtesy Allen & Unwin)

 

There is something inordinately comforting about rejoining the company of book characters you have grown to know and love.

If an author is doing their job properly, and Hilary Spiers mostly certainly is, it is akin to meeting up again with old friends, people you wish you could have spent more time with as you turn the last page and they disappear from your life as swiftly as they appeared 400 pages earlier.

Love, Lies and Linguine provides readers just such a reunion, a chance to rejoin the widowed sisters from the small fictional UK village of Pellington who in their first literary outing, Hester and Harriet, opened their hitherto sealed-up life at their small cottage, The Laurels, to an eclectic extended family that came to encompass their teenage nephew Ben, a Belarussian refugee brother and sister duo, Artem and Daria, and Daria’s baby son, Milo.

It was an unexpected shaking of the established order, and one neither sister saw coming but which fussy, sometimes cantankerous devoted cook Hester, and freespirited, liberal Harriet, embraced with gusto and enthusiasm since they are, at the end of the day, kindhearted souls who want the best for those around them (and in Hester’s case, compliance with some immutable behavioural expectations).

“Harriet, deep in her Kindle, does not reply. Either she is lost in her thriller or she wants Hester to believe that she is. Hester, who has long and vociferously resisted the lure of an e-reader, now throws covetous glances at the slim device, only too conscious of the weight of the paperbacks clogging her case. Too thrifty (‘mean’, says Harriet) to pay for excess baggage, she had jettisoned fourtops, a spare pair of shows and three pairs of knickers to accommodate the books.” (P. 1)

Their generosity of spirit gives figurative birth to an expansive family, which includes the learned, well-spoken homeless man about town, Finbar, one which expands even further in Love, Lies and Linguine, as love and a whole of secrets come to roost in the lives of this wonderful polyglot family.

This time around though rather than everyone being in the same place, Hester & Harriet are away in Italy for a holiday that ends up becomes a whole more stressful and complicated than either bargained for, while Daria, Ben and Artem are back in Pellington coping with extraordinarily messy private lives.

It may sound a tad soap opera-ish but only in the most benign and sweet of ways, and thanks to Spiers ability to create such vivid, rich characters who inhabit a believable universe, enhanced with rose tinted glasses though it may be, you know that any travails they experience will eventually be sorted out thanks to the strength of the bonds between them.

 

 

 

High-edged drama and action it is not, but then that is not the point, I suspect.

Rather, thanks to a delightful lilting style that immerses you like a warm hug, you get quandaries and problems, in this case some real doozies, all of which you know in your heart won’t cause unending schisms or be the death of anyone or the big messy loving made-up family we have come to know.

It would be easy to dismiss this as uneventful or undemanding writing but in truth, it’s robust and truthful in its own way, an acknowledgement that there is drama to be found in the most domestic of situations, a realm where, let’s face it, we most of spend the majority of our time.

It’s escapist certainly but who hasn’t longed for a family where all the irritations, thoughtlessness and poor decisions eventually resolve themselves back into the comforting embrace of home and hearth: maybe you have that, maybe you don’t, but the lure of Love, Lies and Linguine is that whatever trials arrive, and however much relationships are tested, normalcy will be restored and life will return to that lovely place of contentment and belonging.

The only downside to this slice of English drama-lite is that the main characters are split between Hester and Harriet in Italy, with the others dealing with, initially at least, far less compelling issues at home.

“Harriet looks across at Hester, rejoices to see the excitement in her eyes, the hunger for some hard physical work to fill her days, a shared task to bind them close once more, and surrenders. Maybe it would be cathartic — even fun, once they get started — to clear out all the rubbish (really dispose of it, not just move it somewhere else), streamline their lives and start a new chapter.” (P. 432)

It’s fine that the two sisters get the more meatier issues to deal with since they are, after all, the heart and soul of what you want to hope will be a long and enduring series, but it does mean that as the chapters alternate between Italy and the UK, you long to return to Hester and Harriet, the secondary characters not quite delivering the goods.

But then things shift a gear back in England and suddenly each chapter keeps and holds your interest; even so, the fact that everyone isn’t together until later, and then only briefly, means that some of the warm, all-together-now bonhomie of the first book is dissipated somewhat.

It’s only small drawback though for a book that delightfully reminds us that no matter how far we roam, or how badly we misjudge a situation, or however many secrets we keep to our detriment, that the bonds of friendship and family can always cover a multitude of sins.

Love, Lies and Linguine is a delightful return to the lives of Hester & Harriet and their motley accidental brood, and one can only hope that Spiers grants us another winsomely-written, emotionally-rich opportunity to spend time with these delightful souls once again.

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