Magazine article The Spectator

'From a Distance', by Raffaella Barker - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'From a Distance', by Raffaella Barker - Review

Article excerpt

Credit: Matthew Dennison

From a Distance Raffaella Barker

Bloomsbury, pp.336, £16.99, ISBN: 9781408833735

Elements of Raffaella Barker's new novel, her eighth for adults, suggest commercial fiction: a narrative that oscillates between the aftermath of the second world war and the present day, and two failsafe locations, Cornwall and the Norfolk coast. But From a Distance is not commercial fiction. Barker's narrative is sparingly studded with quotations, but this is not literary fiction either. There is a strong love interest, which does not blossom into romantic fiction. Barker's novel is a hybrid, enjoyable, ultimately heart-warming. It lacks the freshness and charm of the earlier Hens Dancing , but recalls some of its vividness and forensically detailed scrutiny of family life.

In 1946, Michael, a demobilised soldier, avoids returning to his prewar life. Barker suggests psychological war damage of a standard variety. Michael eschews his parents' farm in Norfolk and a mistily remembered fiancée Janey for the novelty of the Cornish coast, a community of fishermen, flower farmers and artists. 'The real question, as he saw it, was whether he... could ever belong to anything or anyone again.' The answer to that question, of course, is yes. In Cornwall, Michael falls in love. Predictably he fails to reconcile old and new loyalties. He returns to Norfolk, abandoning his Cornish lover.

More than half a century later Luisa is wrestling with the onset of empty-nest syndrome in a house in the country in Norfolk, where her existence is overwhelmingly that of a cog in the machinery of her children's lives. …

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