An odd one this.
The setting is wonderful. Rural England in 1672.
The period, just a few decades after the Civil War, with the effects still being felt and the country still unsettled, comes wonderfully to life.
As does the real countryside. Rustic, beautiful, but also tough and grubby. You really do feel that you can see, hear, feel, touch, taste …
And the plot held great promise.
Jonathan Dymond works as a cider-maker, travelling from orchard to orchard to make a living.
A rather gauche young man. He was steady narrator and I believed in what I saw through his eyes and felt though his heart.
Jonathan is a much loved only child. His family is secure, settled and respected in their community. And they are happy.
Matthew and Barbara Dymond are good people. A little ordinary maybe, but that works to good effect as the story develops.
Their equilibrium is disturbed when Jonathan’s Uncle Robin is taken ill and dies. And then Jonathan finds the remains of a letter from Robin to his father. A letter suggesting that Robin wanted to try to put right wrongs of the past, and that he needed help to do it.
Jonathan is unsettled – and maybe just a little bit curious. And so, with the excuse of helping his widowed aunt with her apple harvest, he tries to find out more.
It does not take him long to uncover the truth that has been hidden away in the family, but as more and more secrets are uncovered, his family’s security and happiness is threatened.
The hidden truth concerns Jonathan’s Aunt Harriet and her estranged sister Joan. And maybe Joan’s daughter Tamar. All intriguing characters, and I am sorry that Jonathan’s narration didn’t allow me to see more of their hearts and minds.
But it’s all beautifully written. The dialogue works particularly well.
In many ways The Wilding has everything you could want from a historical novel. A wonderful sense of time and place. A cleverly constructed plot, with more than enough revelations and set pieces to keep the pages turning.
The novel’s themes are really interesting ones: the importance of truth of truth, and whether is it right to tell it; what happens to those who do not or cannot follow the conventions of their community; the influence wielded by the rich and powerful; the extent to which heredity, nurture and and luck make characters and influence lives.
It adds depth to what could, in the hands of a less gifted writer, have been melodrama.
But a few things just weren’t right. Just a few too many coincidences, a few too many occasions when things were said or done to help the plot along that didn’t quite ring true.
And though that plot is well built, none of the revelations come as a genuine shock. Things are sometimes a little too black and white.
But still I loved The Wilding from start to finish. I can’t say it’s a great book, but I can say that it’s terribly readable.