When I hosted Hilary Spiers on tour I was drawn in by her passion. Making the move from award winning short story writer to penning a novel, she said :
It was like galloping bareback across an open field after years of restrained trotting round a paddock. I loved it. It wasn’t a challenge any longer: it was a compulsion. Hester and Harriet took over my life.
I was intrigued about the ‘mysterious and threatening events’ and couldn’t wait for Hester and Harriet to reach the top of my tbr pile.
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: Allen & Unwin (3 Mar. 2016)
Hester and Harriet two widowed sisters in their 60s, are reluctantly driving to visit relatives when they come across a young woman hiding with her baby in a bus shelter. Seeing the perfect excuse for returning to their own warm hearth, the sisters insist on bringing Daria and Milo home with them.
But the arrival of a sinister stranger looking for a girl with a baby, followed quickly by their cousins’ churlish fifteen-year-old son, Ben, who also appears to be seeking sanctuary, Hester and Harriet’s carefully crafted peace and quiet quickly begins to fall apart. And, perhaps, it’s exactly what they need…
Widowed Hester and Harriet live in the next village to their cousin George and wife Isabelle. George thinks they need company, not realising they are happy as they are – the deliberate ‘batty old woman’ faces they show to keep people away obviously has the opposite effect! As we get to know the sisters and their love of home cooking/the best ingredients and the difference between Hester and Isabelle’s cooking, I didn’t blame them for not wanting to go …
On the way to George’s on Christmas Day they see the bundle in the disused bus shelter (and it isn’t Finbar – homeless by choice and living in the bus shelter) and Daria and Milo enter their life. Not long after, George’s son Ben arrives on their doorstep looking for refuge. Ben not only disrupts their routines but he surprises them again and again (which I loved). In the course of a week, they change the sisters’ comfortable and plodding lives.
The sisters are easy to tell apart with their different strengths and weaknesses and the roles they play within their home. I thought Daria’s situation brought them closer together – not only because they were a team in trying to unravel and then solve the problems or even because Milo softened the edges but they learned new things about themselves too and were able to start opening up to each other. Ben is also a catalyst. Hester and Harriet, without a doubt, have an impact on him but he also teaches them in subtle ways too. And oh the situations they get themselves into – I loved how fearless they were (at least on the surface) and didn’t think twice about just getting on and doing the things they needed to do.
I can’t write my review without mentioning Finbar. Such an interesting and eccentric character … he has it sussed really. The first time the sisters rescue him is quite humourous. I would love to know more about him.
The main story itself is very current, dealing with issues that are emotional to society as a whole. The subplots weave through and I loved the pace of the story. Hilary Spiers writing style drew me in:
Time hovers accommodatingly in the kitchen as Hester considers her response. Pg 120
How visual is this personification! The words on the page are brought to life.
Hester and Harriet is a story that captured my imagination. I felt as if I was living with them all whether that was cosy in the kitchen or walking on painful feet from my heeled shoes where I had dressed to impress … I felt the uncertainty, the fear and elation and fell in love with Milo myself! I didn’t want the story to end.