My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've read it describe in what could be construed to be saccharin terms - ' a gem of a novel' ' a charmer' and yes those do apply, BUT.
The book is written by a Brit in her 70s who had never written a book before , BUT. ( you can see there is a pattern here!)
It is an epistolary novel, a series of letters written between two grandparents with grown up children - Tina, a farmer's wife, best near Bury St Edmonds in Suffolk, who is mourning the loss of her best friend and Anders from Denmark who works as a curator in the Silkeborge Museum, who is recently widowed. Their correspondence is something of an accident. Tina and her friend had always talked about going to see the Tollund Man, immortalised in the poem by Seamus Heaney because according to this storyline been among the group of school girls to whom the Danish archeologist Prof Glob who excavated Tollund Man had dedicated his book on the subject entitled The Bog People. In her grief Tina writes to him, but he is long since dead and Anders replies instead. There begins a totally rivetting 18 month corrrespondence between the two.
Through their letters they unwind and take increasingly openly about their different lives, their loss, their marriages, their children. They philosophise about the choices which took them to where they find themselves in their lives and as they do so their letters move from the formal opener of 'Dear Mrs Hopgood' to 'My dear Tina', from the friendly but respectful closure of 'Best wishes' to 'All my love'.
Youngson creates to distinct voices - Anders is very matter of fact, analytical, his English style of writing echoing his hestitancy in life but as the correspondence continues his confidence with English reflects his rise in confidence in his life. Tina is concerened about decisions and choices she made which led to her marriage, to her living and working on a farm, and about what she has missed out on. The reader gets quite an insight into the life of a farmer's wife. Youngson's uses a great metaphor for second chances which she gives her characters provides a framwork for their discussion of whether the fruits of life have been overlooked as result of decisions, keeping the peace etc. Their correspondence helps them both, and they each provide encouragement and enthusiasm for the other's thoughts, feelings and dileemas. They way she tells the story and develops here characters through their written voice is excellent.
It is a delightful book. It is very well crafted. I did pick up on the ending a little before we got here, but that did not in any way detract from it. I loved the way she ended the book *****SPOILER ALERT ***** in a way that says to me she is a confident writer, secure in the strength of her story, the strength of her character development through their distinctive voices, and so not needing to supply prescribed Hollywood ending.
The book was shortlisted for the Costa Best First Novel in 2018 and won the Paul Torday Prize for Debut Fiction by writers over sixty ( I never knew this even existed!) and I would say deservedly so. Most definitely recomended.