Where to start with this review? I have read several of Carole’s books and have enjoyed every single one of them. She really is a truly gifted writer, able to draw the reader into the story, creating interesting and appealing characters and absorbing stories that can’t fail to entertain. A Cottage by the Sea has her usual mix of personalities and situations, but there was something more to this novel somehow that made it stand out from the other Carole Matthews’ novels I have read.
The story is about a holiday in the charmingly named Cwtch Cottage on the Pembrokeshire coast, owned by artist Ella who lives with her band manager husband, Art. She has invited her long-term friends, Grace and Flick, to stay. Grace is the narrator of the story – a reluctant accountant, always trying to be the nice one, the understanding one, the good one. Grace is married to Harry but the marriage is in serious trouble, with Harry’s drinking becoming a real problem. Lovely Ella is the artistic earth mother of the group, desperate to make Cwtch Cottage her permanent home, struggling with a husband who doesn’t want to grow up and would rather be on the road with his bands or living the high life in London. Flick is the glamorous, wild child of the trio. She has had a troubled past and lots of “man problems” but she is determined to put all that behind her and settle down, and the man she has chosen to do that with is Noah. The minute Grace and Noah meet, sparks fly, and the relaxing holiday by the sea that was planned turns into something completely different.
This book has everything. There is a fabulous setting which is beautifully described, some wonderful set pieces, an interesting insight into coasteering, and lots of humour. But the thing that stands out is the characterisation. We see a true friendship between these three women who have been through so much together, and the way that their partnerships with men affect the dynamic of the group and how the friendship affects the relationships with their partners. There is an almost aching sadness in the description of a marriage teetering on the brink, the despair felt by Grace as she tries desperately to make it work and keeps hoping that things will be all right in the end, and the sickening disappointment of repeated let-downs. Her confusion and fear is palpable in the writing, and the reader can only sympathise with her as she endures one of the most painful processes in life.
Although it’s not difficult to guess what is going on in the background and the eventual outcome of the story, nevertheless the journey that the reader goes on with these three lovely women is a fascinating and emotionally satisfying one. It’s the sort of book that you close reluctantly, yet with a contented sigh, knowing all is well and everything is just as it should be. I really loved it and felt enriched by reading it. 5/5