Saturday 22 February 2014

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

Each summer, Jenn and her husband Greg return to Deia, on Mallorca's dramatic west coast. 
This year the arrival of Emma, Jenn's stepdaughter, and her new boyfriend Nathan threatens to upset their equilibrium. 
Beautiful and reckless, Nathan stirs something unexpected in Jenn. As she is increasingly seduced by Nathan's youth and the promise of passion, the line between desire and obsession begins to blur. 
What follows is a highly-charged liaison that puts lives and relationships in jeopardy. 
For Jenn, after this summer, nothing can ever be the same.

The Lemon Grove is published by Tinder Press - an imprint of Headline on 27 February 2014 and is Helen Walsh's fourth novel.

We join Jenn and Greg who are taking their annual holiday on Majorca, in the villa that they rent every year. The sun is hot, the days are long and full of food and drink, lounging by the pool, exploring nearby villages and enjoying the slow pace of life.  Jenn is unsettled, their usual routine is set to change.  Their daugher Emma is arriving, with her new boyfriend and neither Jenn nor Greg seem really keen on the idea.   Emma is only fifteen, Nate is seventeen and appears much older, and more experienced.

Emma and Nathan arrive, and things get off on the wrong foot.  Jenn fell asleep in the sun, topless and Emma is mortified and embarrassed that her 40-something mother could behave like that in front of her boyfriend.

This story is told over seven days.  Not very long, but long enough to turn everything that Jenn believed about herself, her family and her daughter on it's head.  Nathan triggers something inside her that is totally alien to her, a feeling of passion and lust that she's never felt before. Neither of them really do anything to prevent the inevitable and it's not long before Jenn has given in to her inner passion and Nathan is an eager partner.  So follows the development of a relationship that can only cause harm and destruction for everyone. Jenn knows that, Nathan knows that, but their animal attraction far outweighs the possible implications of getting caught.

Helen Walsh has written a story that is short (just over 200 pages), but that delivers a punch that left me reeling.  The heat of Majorca, the sights, the smells, the sounds are all so brilliantly written that the the reader is left  feeling as though they too are prickling under the bright midday Spanish sunshine.   And then there are the scenes between Jenn and Nathan.  Raw, animalistic sex, that pulls no punches in the description - this is no love-story of slowly emerging passion, this is fast, hard sexual tension that has to be sated by these two unlikely lovers straight away, no matter where they happen to be.

As Jenn's feelings emerge, and it clear that Nathan is all too happy to sample the body of his girlfriend's mother, I wanted to shout at her, for God's sake woman, stop!  Stop and think about what you are doing. Their relationship unfolds rather like a car crash in slow-motion; the reader wants it to stop, but cannot help but keep reading, anticipating and hoping that Jenn will swerve to avoid the collision.

Alongside Jenn and Nathan's relationship, Jenn also has her feelings about Emma and Greg to think about. Emma is her stepdaughter, Jenn has brought her up since she was a baby, yet there still seems to be a divide in the family.  It's clearly Greg and Emma versus Jenn at times and she can't help but resent Emma's closeness to her father.  Greg seems preoccupied, and he's beginning to annoy Jenn.  The familiar things that she once loved so much are now beginning to grate on her, or is this because Nathan's smooth body is there to tempt her wherever she turns in the villa?

I read The Lemon Grove in two sittings.  It is an utterly brilliant read and I cannot praise it highly enough. The examination of a marriage, of a family and of time moving on for a woman is so cleverly done. It is rare that the desires of an almost middle-aged woman are written about so explicitly and so honestly and the hot and sticky setting of Majorca only adds to the sense of danger of this story.

The ending is shocking.  It is so cleverly written, and so unexpected - it felt like I was left hanging from the edge of a cliff by a fingernail.  The final paragraphs are the true triumph of this novel.

I think you can tell that I absolutely loved The Lemon Grove and would recommend it highly.  Tinder Press, once again, have published a stunner of a novel.

Helen Walsh was born in Warrington, England and moved to Barcelona at the age of sixteen. Working as a fixer in the red light district, she saved enough money to put herself through language school. Burnt out and broke, she returned to England a year later and now works with socially excluded teenagers in North Liverpool. Helen Walsh is the author of the novels Brass, Once Upon a Time in England, and Go To Sleep.
You can find out more about Helen Walsh and her novels by visiting her website    Follow the tweets about The Lemon Grove on Twitter #lemongrove
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  1. So pleased you loved this one as much as I did - "stunning" is definitely the right word! A x

  2. I'm so excited - it's next on my TBR and if you ladies say it's good, then I'm sure to be in for a great read. Thanks of the review.