I have been fascinated by this author. The books I have read upto now are based in British India just at the time the British were planning to leave India. They are so full of detail and so descriptive of a way of life which is now gone forever.
This had a different setting. The narrator here is just thirteen and a very simple innocent thirteen. The setting is post WWII. The place Champagne in France. We have a family of Mother and several children intending to holiday in this hotel in Champagne. See the sites and particularly the cemeteries as the Mother wants her children to know of the sacrifices made by thousands so that they could live. The whole plan turns on its head because from the moment of arrival Mother falls seriously ill, has to be hospitalized and she is more or less out of the story altogether.
We now have Joss our eldest - who comes into her own as a young woman new to the knowledge that she can seduce and bewitch. We have Hester and Cecil the next two girls who are bewildered by the change in Joss and then the littles who are far too small to be aware of anything. We also have the only boy Willmouse who is definitely not what the average boy of the age is. The discovering of sensuality is not totally sexual. The children brought from a stodgy English background to the earthiness of rural France. From the manner of dress for the ladies - they could not understand bare arms and necks to their first taste of Champagne, everything was an eye opener for this lot. Though the book is about children it is not a children's story.
Apart from the Grey family we also have a mystery. The French police have been on the lookout for a swindler. The English children have provided the perfect camouflage. With the only adult in hospital, the only available Englishman around becomes their guardian. What could be more natural? What a perfect cover up. The story also is about the maturing of the elder children - when they came to France they were very innocent and childlike. They are now aware that life is not that simple. That responsibilities have to be taken on, shared and that they must not burden their mother with everything the way they did before.
The story so descriptive of everything in daily French life, from the food to the light, from the description of the surrounding areas to even the description of the characters which make up this story, this was a good book.