This is the third book in No Woman Is an Island: Inspiring and Empowering International Women, a collection of five novels written by different authors and edited by Jean Gill. I agreed to review this as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team, for which I received a copy in return for a fair and honest review.
The Chase was a pace and tone shift from the previous two books in the collection. I did not know this author before reading it but found that her writing captivated me more than the story. There are some authors I read for the joy of the written word, Pat Conroy being one of them, and I have added Lorna Fergusson to the list.
Lorna Fergusson has woven a dark, emotional tale set in the beautiful Dordogne region of France. Once again, a house plays a vital role. Le Sanglier is a very old house buried deep in the woods of the Dordogne, a site layered with history as revealed by the author, stories within the story. I particularly liked this aspect of the book and its relationship to the ending.
Without consulting his wife, the boorish, domineering and self-centered Gerald Feldwick buys a centuries-old house with an unpleasant past named Le Sanglier, during a trip to the region. I’m not sure at what time the story is set –1990s? – but it appears a number of British are moving there for retirement or vacation. He springs it on his wife, Annette, known as Netty (although she dislikes that name), telling her he sees it as a way of moving on from a tragedy in their life, the death of their young son. The young child was snatched from under Annette’s nose while she was talking to a friend, and Gerald blames her when his body is later found. Gerald believes that restoring Le Sanglier to some of its former glory will make Annette emerge from the fog of the tragedy and draw them closer together. In fact, it does the opposite.
Annette is a flawed character, despite the tragedy. She is complex and highly self-absorbed and has, at best, a shaky relationship with Gerald, whom she doesn’t really love. She is uncomfortable in her relations with both of her grown children – her daughter because she is like her father and her son, who is gay. She shows no interest in her grandchildren and refuses to take the reins of her own life and prefers to blame others. I found her totally unsympathetic. In fact, I didn’t much like any of the characters populating Annette’s world in France, although they were very wonderfully drawn – in particular, a retired professor named Rutherford Appleby (Fred), who lives nearby and has a sexual fetish and whom Gerald regards as an old fossil; the blue-blooded and black sheep Peter Rettlesham-Carey, a rude and heavy-drinking ex-pat, in whom Gerald finds a macho pal; and Claudine Bellenger, a French aristocrat who owns Bel Arbre, a palatial house and estate that is a museum to her dead husband. I found her to be the most compelling, perhaps because she was the least flawed.
The story arc – Annette’s interactions with her neighbors, her unraveling marriage, the refurbishment of the house, her discovery of its history – proceeds at a glacial pace, and I must admit there were so many details of places in the Dordogne region, which the author clearly knows well and I don’t, that I was occasionally lost. I kept hoping for some resolutions to Annette’s challenging relationships, but even in the end, they didn’t arrive.
I cannot say I was engrossed by this novel, but oh! the writing. The author’s power of description of place and emotions was stunningly beautiful and although I was not drawn to the story, I read on, entranced by the author’s written word. It’s a tribute to the author that she could sustain my interest in reading this, despite the pacing and a protagonist I didn’t really like. I will definitely read another offering from her.
About the author (Amazon):
Born and raised in Scotland, Lorna Fergusson moved to Oxford where she runs Fictionfire Literary Consultancy. She has taught creative writing for more than twenty years, including at the University of Winchester’s Writers’ Festival and on various programs for Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education. Her novel, The Chase, was originally published by Bloomsbury: on the rights reverting, she published it under her own imprint, Fictionfire Press. She has won an Ian St James short story award, been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize, longlisted for the Fish Short Story Prize, and her children’s novel Hinterland reached the shortlist of four for Pan Macmillan’s Write Now Prize. She was a finalist in the Historical Novel Society’s short story competition in 2012, before winning in 2014 with her story ‘Salt’, initially published in Distant Echoes by Corazon Press and now republished in An Oxford Vengeance. Longlisted for the 2020 Mogford Prize for Food and Drink Writing and she was runner-up for the 2021 award.
This is British author Lorna Fergusson’s first novel, although she has contributed several award-winning short stories to two books published as collections.
You can find Lorna Fergusson
On twitter: @lornafergusson
On her book site: https://www.lornafergusson.com/
And on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LornaFergussonAuthor
You can find The Chase on Amazon, either in the anthology or as a stand-alone novel.