“How cosy I made it sound. How easy. Sam and Ella both looked at me for a moment, their faces a mixture of apprehension and wistfulness. I smiled back at them indulgently, feeling so pleased with myself. Now, I look back and I want to grab my old self by the shoulders and shake, hard. I want to slap the smug smile off my face. I wasn’t just complacent; I was blind.
Jane Berry has always dreamed of moving to the country. When she uproots her family and takes them to live in a rural paradise, at first it all seems perfect. She has the house and the space she always longed for and is determined to make a better life for herself and her children.
But when her marriage comes under pressure the dream starts to fall apart. A seemingly promising new friendship shows its dark side and Jane finds her life spiralling out of control. Then one night a line is crossed that threatens to ruin her and break apart her family forever”
I’ve just read Suzanne Bugler‘s third adult novel (also having two young adult books to her name), “The Safest Place”, and in some ways it was a very easy read, such is the quality of the writing, but at the same time it is emotionally a hard read.
The beginnings of the story may feel familiar to many families. David and Jane Berry are feeling trapped by the pace and competitiveness of big city life. They cannot afford to move to a larger house now that children have come along. They worry about the negative effects that such a life, and the attending of the inevitably large secondary schools, will have on their children – particularly their quiet and sensitive son, Sam.
They have a dream of relocating to the countryside for a cleaner, healthier, more relaxed way of life. They have always enjoyed holidays and weekends in the countryside, and Jane especially is convinced that if they move their lives there, then their dream will become reality, and so they sell their London home and move out into the countryside they’ve enjoyed so much on those weekends.
Initially, during the summer holidays with the long days, their paradise does seem to have been achieved. Once autumn and winter have set in, however, it becomes apparent that things are not quite that easy. David has a massively time consuming commute back into London for work each day. Sam, and his sister, Ella struggle to make friends, and Jane herself feels lonely and isolated as friends become distant through both proximity (or, lack of it) and circumstance.
Then Jane becomes friends with another mother in the school playground, Melanie. Melanie is far more self confident than Jane now feels, and has a much more relaxed parenting style. Soon Sam and Ella have friends in Melanie’s children Abbie and Max. Things seem to be improving, but for David the daily slog commuting is taking a toll, and little by little the couple’s relationship comes under increasing strain.
Whilst some developments are almost inevitable in this story, some most definitely are not, and just when you think things have got as bad as they can, you find there is more to come.
Having the tale told in retrospect, and solely from Jane’s point of view are what makes this tale so strong, I think. There are some quite harrowing passages in the book – all the more so if you’ve encountered marital strife yourself – and it’s interesting, and perhaps telling in relation to human nature, just how little blame and responsibility for anything going wrong Jane is able or prepared to accept at the time.
It’s certainly thought provoking stuff, and well worth a read…