The House of Peine – Sarah-Kate Lynch

June was Chick Lit month at the CM Book Club.
There was a choice of ten books and New Zealand writer, Sarah-Kate Lynch’s The House of Peine came out at the head of the vote by a nose.

This book has also been published overseas as The House of Daughters or The House of Joy, in case you can’t find it under this title.

It is the story of the Peine champagne family of vignerons.  Three daughters of a crusty, absentee father who leaves each of them with emotional scars, quirks and issues to overcome, to be exact.  The eldest, Clementine, has lived with her father and their vines all of her life.  She loves them like her own children and feels an opening up of freedom when her father dies with the first frost of the year.   Unfortunately for Clementine things are not that simple.  Her younger half-sister, Mathilde, daughter of Olivier and his second wife reappears with the family lawyer.  Mathilde only briefly visited the family home as a seventeen year old many years after her parents parted company.  In that brief visit she devastates a shy Clementine’s relationship with “the boy next door”, for which Clementine can never forgive her.
Before leaving, the lawyer drops a final bombshell.  This time both half-sisters are stunned to find out that there is a third child, born in a tryst with a barmaid who returns to Paris.  The third sister, Sophie, is young but tough having been abandoned by her mother at twelve to foster homes and eventually to the streets.

The story then unfolds these relationships as each new sister takes up residence in the dilapidated chateau.  It is helped along by the mysterious “Petite”, a wizened old gypsy who comes with her extended family each year for the harvesting of the grapes.  She pokes and prods the sisters along the road to facing their inner fears and demons.

The writing is extremely easy, and at times the descriptions were hilarious, but I must say that it is clear that the writer is a New Zealander.  There are phrases that simply would not come off of the keyboard of a French, British or American writer.
One of my favourite passages occurs early on in the book, while Clementine is burying Olivier, but there were others which made me laugh out loud.

  The widow Gillet had insisted the stonemason give the monument a likeness of her husband’s long angular face, which he had attempted to do atop the body of a stock standard cherub, ripe and plump and all of four years of age.  The result was unnerving to say the least.  Also, he’d got the facial alterations wrong with his first attempts, so the head had ended up much smaller than it should have been.  The overall effect was one of a wizened midget colliding with a giant infant to form one completely out-of-proportion circus creature.  That the wings were off a life-sized horse, the legs of which had not survived the trip from Lyons, did not help.

I must say that I enjoyed this book.  There was the odd aspect which rubbed the wrong way, as there nearly always is with any book you read, but they did not irritate to an extent that they overpowered my easy enjoyment of the story.   The resolution of the sisters’ individual stories was fair, from my point of view.  In a 300 page book it is simply not possible to do anything but cut slices of time and character development out in order to reach a satisfactory conclusion.  I thought this was done reasonably sensitively without excessively straining the credibility of character change.

I would give this a 3.5/5 for easy reading.   Chick Lit doesn’t usually flick my switch, the odd author excepted*, but I can say hand-on-heart that I will pick up another book by Sarah-Kate Lynch the next time I want something light and bright to read.

For reference, the other books on offer for this month were, of which I have the Maeve Binchy and the Kate Jacobs sitting on my headboard waiting to be read:

  • Anybody Out There / Marian Keyes
  • Straight Talking / Jane Green
  • The Fidelity Files / Jessica Brody
  • Minding Frankie / Maeve Binchy
  • Goodnight Nobody / Jennifer Weiner
  • Love Lies / Adele Parks
  • Mums on the Run / Charlotte Bingham
  • The Ship of Brides / Jojo Moyes
  • The Friday Night Knitting Club / Kate Jacobs

* I have enjoyed Marian Keyes previously, for instance.

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