Time for another Fairlight Modern novella! This time we’re off to a remote island on the east coast of America, to a world of crisp winter winds and pines, and sudden summer influxes of tourists; a world where the year-round residents all know everyone else’s secrets and newcomers are watched with suspicion. And the gossiping islanders have plenty to occupy them now, because an old rental cottage has just been sold to the young and beautiful Delilah. The neighbours wonder about her story (and her morals), gleefully scandalised while Delilah rolls up her sleeves and gets on with the business of transforming her little cottage into a home. But she swiftly realises that she isn’t the only mystery on the island. What about the man who lives in the yellow house next door, with whom she shares a driveway, but who hardly ever comes out into the world?
This short tale seems, at root, to be about self-determination. Delilah gets a thrill from doing up her home and garden because, for the first time in a very long while, she is making her own choices. During the week, she’s her own woman, passionately teasing out the order of her flower beds and debating her horticultural choices with the sheriff, Ted. Then, at the weekend, Alan arrives: Alan, her lover, who bought this cottage for her, who has moved her out of town, away from the eyes of his wife and his friends and anyone who might disrupt their cosy lie of domesticity. Not that Alan’s particularly domestic, come to think of it. He doesn’t care what Delilah’s done with the garden: he just wants to roar up on a Friday, be greeted by a beautifully-groomed woman and be pampered all weekend. Once, that might have pleased Delilah. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that life offers more.
In the yellow house on the other side of the driveway, Anton lives under an assumed name, watching his life trickle away in the shadows of police protection. He’s intrigued by his new neighbour, and then fascinated by her. Who wouldn’t be? Every man on the island is enchanted by this provocative new arrival. Only Ted seems to be getting his feet under the table though. And Anton has spent so long in hiding that he’s almost forgotten how to face the world again. Watching Delilah has opened up the possibility of a new route back into life. But does he have the courage to take it?
Delilah seems to have spent most of her life being the catalyst by which men change their paths and it’s high time to see whether she will have the gumption to take the reins of her own life. I’m not sure I got a particularly good sense of her at all times – at some points I felt that she was more of a device than a character, if that makes sense – and I found the concluding act a bit hurried and unconvincing (how is it that certain problems, i.e. Anton’s whereabouts, no longer seem to be a problem?), but for all that I enjoyed its shrewd and finely-drawn depiction of an insular small community.
Every story I’ve read so far in this series has been a carefully-crafted gem, so I’m very much looking forward to seeing what the final couple bring. Luckily they’re by women so we won’t have to wait until September to find out!
I received this book from the publisher via Netgalley in return for a fair and honest review