We’re delighted to be sharing Elena’s thoughts on How To Belong by Sarah Franklin.
How To Belong is published by Zaffree in hardcover and digital on 12th November.
Jo grew up in the Forest of Dean, but she was always the one destined to leave for a bigger, brighter future. When her parents retire from their butcher’s shop, she returns to her beloved community to save the family legacy, hoping also to save herself. But things are more complex than the rose-tinted version of life which sustained Jo from afar.
Tessa is a farrier, shoeing horses two miles and half a generation away from Jo, further into the forest. Tessa’s experience of the community couldn’t be more different. Now she too has returned, in flight from a life she could have led, nursing a secret and a past filled with guilt and shame.
Compelled through circumstance to live together, these two women will be forced to confront their sense of identity, and reconsider the meaning of home.
Jo is a barrister working in London. She becomes increasingly disillusioned with her job and when her parents (who run a butcher’s shop in the Forest of Dean where she grew up) decide to leave the business due to a fall in profits, Jo leaves her profession and moves back home with three-month plan to make the shop profitable again. If after three months she’s failed then her parents will sell. She moves back excited to embark on this new path. She lodges with Tessa a local farrier, and looks forward to reconnecting with Liam, her childhood best friend. Only the reception and welcome she receives from him and some other villages is not quite the warm one that she was hoping for.
Tessa lives alone in a cottage. She is finding it very difficult to make ends meet which is why she’s opened up a home to a lodger, Jo. She’s recently split from a long-time relationship with ex-girlfriend Marnie and as a solitary loner she finds it difficult to open up to Jo and get used to what she sees as a necessary intrusion. She also suffers from episodes where she faints and collapses randomly and these have cast a shadow over her entire life which she suffers in secret. As time goes on, she begins to open up to Jo and the reasons for her reclusive nature and the unhappy life she’s become accustomed to become apparent with the light her new lodger is shining on her.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book and learnt a lot about the area in and around the Forest of Dean. It sounds beautiful.
The author writes about relationships and people’s characters brilliantly and skilfully, exploring them in depth. She raises the question ‘When does a place become home?’ and the realisation that is not where you think it is as people and places change. She explores themes of loneliness, guilt, belonging and relationships. I particularly love the friendship between Tessa and Jo which starts off as frosty and strained but eventually they open up to each other in positive ways.
An absorbing and enjoyable read.
Sarah Franklin grew up in rural Gloucestershire and has lived in Austria, Germany, the USA and Ireland. She lectures in publishing at Oxford Brookes University and has written for the Guardian, Psychologies magazine, The Pool, the Sunday Express and the Seattle Times. Sarah is the founder and host of Short Stories Aloud, and a judge for the Costa Short Story Award. Sarah lives in between London and Oxford with her family.