Windfallen by Jojo Moyes

Reserving Jojo Moyes’ books at the library in one session has its benefits and its drawbacks: you have loads of Jojo Moyes’ books to read but you have to read them quickly within a certain time span or lose them.

And this is why, my book blog readers, you find yourself reading yet another Moyes’ review hot on the heels of the last. Not that I mind as that was the whole point of getting them reserved, because her books are such enjoyable reads and, as such, can be devoured very quickly, the literary equivalent of a piece of carrot cake: you should really take your time and savour it but you can’t help but keep taking another forkful here and there until it’s gone, even the crumbs, and you feel sated although a little sad that it’s over.

The book

The book itself deals with stories of two women, Lottie and Daisy and skips from the 1950’s and the story of Lottie, to the present and the story of Daisy. Both parts are set in the fictional town of Merham which is somewhere in Essex, England.

Lottie is a refugee from London who has been living with the Holden family for many years and has become a part of the family, albeit on the periphery. She spends most of her time with Celia, and like sisters, they do everything together. They are very different, Lottie being described as brooding, a little surly, her dark moods matched by her dark colouring whereas Celia is playful, a little frivolous, blonde haired and bubbly. Celia is popular with other girls in the village, whereas Lottie is viewed warily, her only other real friend being a quiet, steady mechanic called Joe.

Their lives have been relatively mundane until the arrival of a group of artistic types to the village, who take over the neglected Art Deco house, Arcadia, a white box with portholes that is perched on the clifftop above the beach and does not really echo the atmosphere of the village in which it has been built. Of course, the girls are drawn to the new residents and their freer way of life, loose and less restrained than the prim, opinionated and narrow women of Merham.

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Adeline is the figurehead of the new folk; she is graceful and contained in a way that is attractive to all who meet her and is the owner, along with her husband, Julian, of the house. Her friend, Frances, an artist, also lives there and is more of a staple of the house than Julian who tends to visit now and again with his companion, Stephen. Another regular occupant is George, a good friend partial to a party who also likes to flirt, especially with impressionable teenage girls who may have led a sheltered life.

Lottie and Celia become frequent visitors to the house and soon, there is an incident where Celia is swimming with rather more of her on show than she was expecting her slip to allow and is caught like that by some of the matrons of the village. Of course, she must be sent away to avoid further scandal and so Lottie and Celia are separated while Celia goes to live in London.

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With Celia gone, Lottie feels more and more out of place in the Holden household, there being tension in the marriage of Dr. Holden and his wife as he no longer spends his time at home and has a young, attractive secretary at his surgery. She spends more and more time at Arcadia, becoming closer to Adeline as a result.

Celia’s return

It is Celia’s return to Merham that causes everyone’s lives to be altered completely, as she arrives back with her fiancĂ©, Guy, a handsome young man who is rich and eligible. Lottie knows as soon as she sees him that he is hers, in some innate primeval way that she feels in her gut, hoping and praying that he feels the same way.

It is clear from this brief synopsis that the relationship that Celia and Lottie have had thus far is due to become fractured: Celia’s whole demeanour has changed since she has been in London and now that she is engaged, their worlds have become disparate; Lottie loves her fiancĂ© and tries desperately not to encourage it but circumstances throw them together repeatedly with Arcadia being at the centre of it.

The first section of the book ends after a wedding and Lottie feels like she has no other recourse than to join Adeline in her house in France.

Daisy

Skip to the present day and a totally unrelated character called Daisy who has recently become a new mother and has been deserted by her business partner, lover and baby’s father, Daniel, who just was not able to accept the changes a baby would bring to his perfectly managed existence.

Living in Primrose Hill in an apartment filled with memories and a lot of dirty nappies, Daisy is rescued from becoming buried emotionally and physically firstly by her bossy but well-meaning sister but also, by the chance of completing a contract to redesign and renovate a project in Merham, an Art Deco house which is being transformed into a boutique hotel. It was originally going to be her and Daniel completing it but charged with the prospect of doing it on her own, Daisy sees it as a means to escape her current situation, earn some money and provide a focus on something other than her own misery.

Despite the challenge it presents and the skepticism of her boss named Jones, who doubts her ability to manage and complete the project with a very young baby, Daisy copes along with the help of Mrs. Bernard, the house’s previous owner. There is opposition to the project from the locals – attitudes, it would seem, very rarely change over the ages – but Daisy is determined and finds her grit, acknowledging that she is a different person to the Daisy of Primrose Hill.

Jones is impressed and sees Daisy in a completely different light, leading him to view her as more than just his designer and when a mural is uncovered at the house which depicts the residents during its 1950’s resurgence, it causes Daisy to look into the history of the house. This proves to be a very painful time for Mrs. Bernard, especially at the opening of the hotel, when she is confronted with a face from her past which she had never hoped to encounter again.

Subplot

Besides the main characters, there is Camille, the daughter of Mrs. Bernard and her husband, Joe, who was born blind and is the local beautician. Camille’s husband, Hal is the person charged with uncovering the mural, a welcome relief as he struggles to maintain his furniture restoration business. Camille and Hal are trying to iron out difficulties in their marriage, caused by Camille having a dalliance with a real estate agent and confessing her transgression to Hal so the tensions that are present in their relationship are also part of this book.

The final part of the novel deals with Lottie’s time in France with Adeline and discoveries she makes there about the way that Adeline has led her life. Also, as with all of Moyes’ books, ends are nicely tied, conflicts resolved and a vision of the future of the characters in whom lives we have been so closely linked in our reading of the novel clearly suggested for us.

And the title? Well, I was interested to know that the book was previously published as Foreign Fruit which I think is entirely more suitable. However, Windfallen refers to apples that fall off trees instead of being picked, perhaps a reference to Lottie, and in the book, the girls are told that the initial of the man destined for them will be formed in apple peel, the peel having been stripped from the apple in one complete piece and then thrown over their shoulder. The shape it forms as it lands should be a letter. The book ends with a return to this idea, tying it in with the title.

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I liked this book very much. I knew that I was going to enjoy it almost immediately after starting it, more so than The Peacock Emporium. I think it was the setting of the seaside town and the Art Deco house full of Bohemians that did it primarily and I do love a story where characters come into an established community and shake it up a bit with their unorthodox ways and their lack of worry over what others think. In some ways too, more than other Jojo Moyes’ books, it reminded me of the fiction of Kate Morton – if you are a fan of Morton’s books, then you really should check this one out.

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