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An Inventory of Heaven

by Jane Feaver

Like her brilliant collection of short stories, LOVE ME TENDER, Jane Feaver’s new novel is set in the closed world of a Devon village.

Mavis Gaunt is seventy and living in Shipleigh, a village in an “unremarkable” valley somewhere between Exmoor and Dartmoor where the lanes are “arbitrary: deep meandering gullies to nowhere in particular..” and delivery vans lose their way. It is a superb setting for this dark and poignant story.

Newcomers to the village - a woman called Eve and her eight-year-old son, Archie - stir up more than idle local interest: their arrival forces Mavis to confront painful memories of events that happened fifty years before.

Mavis first went to Shipleigh to stay with her aunt as an evacuee during the war. A lonely child, she made friends with Frances, Robert and Tom Upcott, siblings who lived at a nearby farm. But, from the moment she and her father first go to the farm, when Tom levels a rifle at them, you know that no good will come of it. There is the surly Mr Upcott with his “arms like two black wings flapping in the sleeves of a jacket he was in the process of putting on”; the clammy, dimly lit kitchen; subservient daughter; and, worst of all for a city girl, the dead piglet. Yet, when she returns to live in the village as a young woman, she finds herself being drawn again to this dysfunctional family and becomes increasingly enmeshed, with unforeseen and tragic consequences.

Feaver views the countryside and its people with the beady eye of a poet and her descriptions are original, lyrical and often very funny. She also has the ability to inhabit her characters’ skin: she writes with insight about how a sensitive child perceives the adult world and with compassion about loneliness and the agony of first love. All in all, AN INVENTORY OF HEAVEN is a rare treat.

Clare Chandler

Published by Corsair, 312pp.

Read our interview with Jane Feaver.

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