With thanks to Sarah Vincent for the review copy.
Not long ago Kaggsy reviewed The Testament of Vida Tremayne and I immediately liked the sound of it, so I was delighted later when the author contacted me offering me a review copy.
Set amongst the countryside of the Welsh borders The Testament of Vida Tremayne takes the age old story of mothers and daughters – which I always find so powerful – adding a psychological element. There is a wonderfully strong sense of place – which is always important to me as a reader and three fascinating women at the heart of the story.
“It’s the moment of arrival she’s been dreading the most. She’s often cursed the three-mile-long track to the house; cursed it for its jay-walking pheasants and canyon-deep cracks which flood in winter, but this afternoon it hasn’t seemed nearly long enough. Just the thought of pulling up outside the empty house made her feel sick. But here it is. End of the road. She’s reached her destination.”
Vida Tremayne is an author, she once won a big prize for the one novel of hers which remains in print, but her creativity has been blocked for some time, the only thing Vida has been able to write is her journals. Now, abandoned by her husband for a new life in France, Vida is trapped inside her own mind – confined to a hospital bed. Whatever it was that brought Vida to this frightening decline is a mystery.
Dory – Vida’s estranged daughter has been forced to take time away from her life in London, to be at her mother’s bedside, and to sort out the mess of her remote cottage, deep in the countryside that Dory dislikes so much. Vida and Dory have never been close; Dory resents having to take a break from her high end estate agency clients. The cut and thrust of business almost all she thinks about. Dory doesn’t read her mother’s work – she read that one famous book and finding a character in it who she believed to be a portrait of herself, came to resent her mother’s work. Novels and all forms of storytelling are recurring themes in this novel – with references to Vida’s stories, her novels and journal writing along with the work of Elizabeth Taylor (one of my favourites of course) and Mary Webb. Dory is someone who doesn’t read fiction, but her mother is a woman whose compulsion to tell stories led her to distance herself from her daughter at times.
Vida and Dory’s stories are told in two clearly distinct voices, we meet Dory as she tries to make sense of what has happened to her mother, while still carrying the resentment she first learned as a teenager. Dory, saddened by a recent break up, is being pulled into different directions – she knows her duty is to her mother – and yet she is itching to get back to her demanding clients. Dory is a strong minded woman, determined to succeed she hides her loneliness in a hectic schedule and Twitter followers. Vida’s story – the story of previous few months and what led her to completely breaking down – is told through her journals. Through these we see Vida’s isolation, her frustration with her inability to write and a new friendship with a devoted fan.
“Such twilights we’ve had these past few days! Through my study window the sky is all daubed in gold and smoky pinks and violets the colour of the whinberries we gathered up on the hill t morning. I’ve snuck in here to catch up with this diary while Rhiannon makes us a tart from our hoard. Funny how I say this as if it’s perfectly normal to have a friend in the kitchen making a pie, yet I still have to pinch myself to prove it’s real. Yes, a friend. She’s turned out to be such good company my fan.”
Once installed at her mother’s dilapidated old cottage Dory is surprised to find that she is not alone after all. Vida’s new friend Rhiannon Townsend is already staying. Rhiannon is a long standing fan of Vida’s who came – she explains to Dory – to help Vida unlock her creativity and start writing again. Rhiannon talks about chakra and ‘the muse.’ Dory finds sitting by the bedside of her catatonic mother difficult for more than a very short period of time, Rhiannon is apparently quite happy to spend the entire day there – Dory is at a loss to know what she does there.
“She squint against the rain. Does she see or imagine a great muzzle lifted to the sky, scenting the air? For one horrible moment she has the crazy idea that it’s turned its head towards the garden, that it’s her scent, her sweat, her blood beating in her veins that the thing is sifting, assessing. But even as the thought strikes her it’s on the move again, slinking away towards the trees.”
There are reports locally – which have even made it into the newspaper, that a puma is on the loose in the myth laden Welsh countryside. Brendan Riley who had been doing some odd jobs at the cottage – mentions seeing Vida writing her journals in great secret – and appears to not much care for Rhiannnon. It is only after Dory finds these journals that she begins to understand what happened to her mother.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, compulsively readable – I found it hard to set it aside at night and always looked forward to getting back to it. That is always a sign of a very good read.