I have always held a little soft spot in my heart for her as the very first Helen Herriot in All creatures Great and Small and this book allows us to follow her and her German born Partner (later Husband) Michel as they take the massive risk to buy a French Olive Farm in the South of France. Their courtship is fresh and very new, but their love and hopefulness spur them on into a situation neither seems fully cognisant of when they arrive with a car filled with mattresses and other bits and bobs from Carol's London home.
Situated in the hills above Canne, Apassionata is as dilapidated and neglected as any place can be and yet, she, Michel and his two teen daughters from his first marriage bowl up there to start work on the place even before a single, tile, shutter or gnarled olive tree is formally theirs. The addition of the morbidly obese pet dog Pamela is an added concern that Carol was also unprepared for. She (Pamela) is ever on the cusp of a cardiac calamity as the heat and her considerable heft see Carol worrying much about the capacious appetites of the greedy pooch.
Carol has passable French, but feels isolated from the girls, insecure in their presence as the true magnitude of the task they have taken on dawns. They have no beds, no experience and most pressing of all in the heat of a Riviera Summer, no water supply.
She is in love with the romantic ideal of a haven for artists and artisans and a writer's garret and so the challenge is to make the reality mould to her mind’s eye.
This is a book about the history of Olives, a book about love and passion and also about the South of France. Taken separately would make a nice read, but together provide richness and depths to what might have been a formulaic book.
Carol and Michel weather many a calamity both natural and Financial but it is Ms Drinkwater’s skill with description which really lends itself to a book such as thisand I purposefully read the book slowly and with intention , to fully imagine, the sights, sounds and tastes of these first two years at Apassionata and to experience ( by proxy), every glass of wine, every salad, and fish consumed, which are described with a languid but vivid style.
It is obvious why Carol has become such a prolific writer of books and screen works with such a wonderfully rich place to be inspiration and sanctuary from the rigours of the real world. Her use of vocabulary is rich and plummy but still you see her as “one of us” as she struggles with the mundane and the mad.
Her years as a nomadic explorer and seeker are evident in her reference points, but it is the calming affect of her one true love and the place itself that means she finally wants to put down roots and what grounds her.
The trials and tribulations of trying to maintain day jobs whilst a money pit sits on a hill softly beckoning is described with honesty. Things are not always idyllic, but they are always picturesque. Description of flora and fauna is to be expected, but here it is so beautifully transported into my.mind’s eye as to be almost projected.
A cast of helpers and hinderers also pepper the book, all of them interesting; along with a number of canines who make every effort to take up residence in both villa and Carol’s heart. Soon land, people and assumed teenage charges are adapting to Carol and she to them, until a mutually satisfactory equilibrium is settled upon.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book which makes me want to visit the area myself and taste that glorious golden oily elixir from her olives for myself!