I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey. There, I’ve admitted it. It’s not prurience. Or snobbery. I just never got around to it when it was the hot topic and after that, well, so little time, so many books. But good, bad or mediocre, there’s no denying its massive international success put the genre of “mummy porn” on the world of books.
Helen Walsh’s novel, The Lemon Grove, could so easily have fallen into the trap of being just another tale of middle-aged boredom, spiced up by a liberal dose of lust, libido and forbidden fruit. It’s testimony to her skill as a novelist that it’s much more.
Jenn and her husband Greg have holidayed each year in the pretty town of Deia, on Mallorca. Usually they go out of season when the town is quiet and they can pretend to be locals. They shed their everyday skins; briefly reality is suspended. They eat whatever they want. Drink too much. Take nana naps in the afternoon. Tease and make companionable love. They dream of Villa Ana as their permanent home.
This year though things are complicated by the arrival of Greg’s daughter, Emma, Jenn’s teenage stepdaughter, with her boyfriend Nathan. Jenn, already slightly resentful at the intrusion and the tension that accompanies it, is further irritated by the close father-daughter relationship that seems to deliberately exclude her. The unobserved blossoming of Emma physically, taunts Jenn, suddenly acutely conscious of the effects of the passing years on her; of becoming one of “the oldies” to be endured as an obligation.
Even the town is different. Tourists pack the streets. Nubile holiday hippie-chicks flaunt their youth and tanned bodies. Nathan, cocky, confident, world smart, is the cool observer, dangerously drawing in the discontented Jenn. Walsh has a real gift for lushness, both the landscape and the intensity of physical attraction. The heaviness of secrets and looming doom hangs over Villa Ana like summer storm clouds.
The Lemon Grove is not a romance, and it is not mummy porn. It’s a more subtle and evocative story about getting older, coping with family crises and the transition that can strengthen or tear apart relationships. The one quibble I do have is that Nathan never quite worked for me as a catalyst for such potentially life-changing decisions. In the end though, the sum of the whole book was much more satisfying.
The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh is published by Hachette. Artwork by Sturt Krygsman