The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh
Published by Tinder Press
27th February 2014
She's foggily aware of the creak of the gate, but she cannot drag herself awake. then come the sighs and the panting for breath, macho sounds of exhaustion; recuperation. He hasn't seen her up there, in the shadow. He's bent double, his palms on his knees, catching his breath. He straightens up and comes limping up the path, stiff-legged, his tee shirt pulled over his head life a keffiyeh. The rutted ridges of muscle on his ribcage are speckled with beads of sweat. He slurps water from the stand-pipe, splashes his face and slumps back against the wall; and she feels it like a kick in the guts.
The sun starts to drop and, with it, the distant hum of life starts up again. Families and couples weighed down with parasols and brightly patterned bags begin the trudge back up the hill road from the beach. A couple of mopeds weave in and out of the slow tide of bodies.Jenn stays dead still as the weary beach dwellers pass close to the villa. They do not see her sitting on the low, stone balustrade of the terrace, hidden amongst the lengthening shadows of the lemon grove. Their faces are hard to make out but their beach bags and sarongs catch the falling light as they move slowly past the trees. Only one small boy spies her as he lags behind his parents, dragging his inflatable dinghy along the dusty road. Jenn throws him a little finger wave. The yellow dinghy scratches to a standstill and hangs there by its cord, shifting slightly in the breeze. The child bares a small bar of teeth then, suddenly award of the distance between himself and his parents, sprints off up the hill.
Jenn puts down her book, tilts her head backwards and closes her eyes. From the pine-clad cliffs above, she can hear hikers. They speak in German but from their anxious tone and pitch, she comprehends: hurry, they are telling one another, we need to get down before the light goes. She knows the cliff walk well - a good two hours from here to Soller. Two hours of staggering vistas and sheer drops down to the rocky coves below. More cars and mopeds pass by. The hikers come into view: a group of stout middle-aged women in robust walking attire. They take the smooth, stone steps down to the road, then stop to pass a water bottle around. They share a joke, but the relief in their voices is evident. Refreshed, and with a new resolve, they strike out for the village. None of them notices her: the woman in the white cotton dress. If they were to glance back they might see Jenn drawing up her knees to her chest, locking them with her arms and tilting her head right back as she tries to find the last embers of the sun, to hang on to the moment. She likes the sense of being here, yet being invisible.
Okay, so hands up, I didn't think I was going to like The Lemon Grove. Billed as having 'enough sexual tension to make it impossible to put down' it didn't seem like my sort of read; but when a copy arrived from the publishers, I decided to give it a go, and do you know what, I really enjoyed it. I will say from the off, that it wasn't as steamy as I thought it would be, (but having grown-up on Jilly Cooper, it's going to take a lot!) but there were certainly lots of elements of sexual tension - a casual look, a lingering glance, the accidental brushing of skin-on-skin that it worked. Personally I think it was more a book about a frustrated woman, and the family tensions that would drive anyone to look for an affair - especially when the potential suitor is the handsome boyfriend of your step-daughter!
Jenn and her academic husband Greg. always holiday on the isle of Mallorca, at the Villa Ana. This year is somewhat different, as Greg's teenage daughter Emma and her boyfriend Nathan will be joining them for a week. Jenn has yet to meet the oft talked about Nathan but wants to keep the family peace with Emma by allowing him along.
Things start badly though, for on arrival, Jenn is sunbathing topless at the villa when Emma and Nathan arrive. Emma is furious, Nathan seems oblivious, but eventually his ambivalence turns to something more. The heat and the attention of a much younger man have the desired effect and soon the two become entwined in a passionate affair. But with everyone living under the same roof, surely this is a dangerous game to be playing?
Things soon start to unravel, secrets are revealed, and some things are meant to remain secret. Can their lives ever be the same after this last summer on the island? Because just when you think all is well, Helen Walsh delivers a dramatic final line that made me gasp aloud. This is a beautifully atmospheric novel; Helen Walsh captures the essence of Mallorca wonderfully in her book, it certainly cheered up a cloudy, grey day in winter for me, and there is no doubt, this is going to be one of this years best-sellers, especially when it goes into paperback - perfect beach reading!
Miss Chapter x