Book review: In a Country Garden by Maeve Haran

In a Country Garden by Maeve Haran
In a Country Garden by Maeve Haran
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Baby-boomers weren’t supposed to grow old… aren’t they the ones who were going to change the world?

Maeve Haran, author of the groundbreaking 1992 novel Having It All, which captured the dilemma of the working mother, homes in gleefully on her own contemporaries again as we catch up with the four unforgettable stars of her deliciously irreverent 2014 book The Time of Their Lives.

Haran is a proud member of the infamous ‘Me Generation’ who ripped up the rules and did it their way, and this acutely observant and moving new story addresses the cloud now looming over the baby-boomers… old age and loneliness.

But in trademark style, In a Country Garden isn’t an acceptance of defeat but an entertainingly honest and gloriously witty tale of friendship, doing things differently, and growing old not-so-gracefully.

So welcome back lifelong pals Claudia, Ella, Laura and Sal who enjoy drinks and a regular catch-up at a smart London wine bar. The four women are typical of their generation – outspoken, vigorous and fun-loving – and they know each other’s lives inside out including husbands, lovers, children, hopes and fears.

As the feisty foursome turn 65, they are looking at the future and wondering how to make growing old more fun.

Ella, whose husband was killed in a railway accident five years ago, has recently sold her home and is planning to move to a riverside cottage but deep inside she still has ‘a well of emptiness’ and secretly fears she is getting dementia.

Claudia and her husband Don have somehow managed to patch up their marriage and moved to the Surrey countryside to be near Claudia’s very elderly parents, and fragile Laura is in the middle of a bitter divorce from the husband she had thought was perfect until she discovered he was cheating on her.

Sal, meanwhile, who has been battling breast cancer with her usual flippant humour, is still eager to carry on working in her job as a magazine editor and has no desire to give in to old age.

But Claudia misses having her friends around and is the first to moot the idea of living together in a sort of ‘anti-retirement… a cross between a student flat and a kibbutz’ rather than ‘dribbling in front of the telly in care homes or living alone and never seeing anyone.’

Just think, they could have sunny afternoons on the lawn, helping and supporting each other when any of them need it… and still keep enjoying life?

Joined by Claudia’s reluctant husband and Sal’s energetic and wealthy American fiancé Lou Maynard, they ignore the protests of their children and pool their resources in a lovely manor house in the Surrey countryside. Only Laura holds out, convinced she still has some living to do, especially now that she has met the dashing Gavin through an online dating app.

But life still has plenty of surprises in store, plus a little romance, in what the locals dub a New-Age Old-Age Commune. But are your best friends the last people you should end up living with?

Haran injects her comedy workout with an appealing thread of gritty realism but In a Country Garden is still an uplifting and life-affirming treat from first page to last, packed with wonderful characters – including a Shakespeare- quoting robot called Hiro specially designed to help the elderly – and plenty of laughs and dramas.

Self-deprecating baby-boomer humour at its very best!

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)