The Yellow Villa…
About the Book:
‘People come to France to reinvent themselves…’
Mia and Ben, an Australian couple in their early thirties, have relinquished one dream and embraced another, selling their Sydney flat and purchasing an old yellow house in the picturesque village of Cordes-sur-Ciel in South-West France.
They soon meet sophisticated neighbours Dominic and Susannah, a British couple in their sixties who welcome them warmly but whose own relationship is in crisis. Mia and Ben are immediately star-struck and impressed by their lavish hospitality. However, things with Dominic and Susannah are not what they first seem.
Gradually secrets begin to surface, revealing details of a scandal Dominic and Susannah had hoped to leave behind in London. Reeling from these revelations, Mia and Ben no longer trust their own instincts and the peaceful idyll of their French life begins to unravel. Can Dominic and Susannah escape each other, and can Ben and Mia they find their way back to each other and the dream they shared?
An intoxicating and hugely entertaining domestic drama by the bestselling author of The French Perfumer.
I absolutely devoured The Yellow Villa by Amanda Hampson. It’s the first novel of hers that I’ve read and I enjoyed her style so much. It veers from sharp wit to lyrical reflections and there is not a single wasted word along the way. Not a long novel, but wow, does a lot happen! I loved this about it, straight to the point and no messing around throughout. I used to adore long books, the longer the better, but of late I’m more about the instant gratification. I want to begin and end a book inside a day on my weekend, not have it stretch out over the working week. The length of The Yellow Villa was perfect for a Saturday spent relaxing with several cups of tea and the pages slipping by rapidly.
The Yellow Villa is a domestic drama that is very much driven by its four main characters. Ben and Mia are a young Australian couple who have bought ‘the yellow villa’ with no real plan other than to use it as a fresh start for their troubled marriage. I liked both of these characters but Mia definitely came off stronger. She wasn’t always likeable, but I felt her presence more than Ben, who was at times, incredibly naive and wishy washy. Together though, they worked really well. They just needed to get back on the same track.
Susannah and Dominic are much older than Ben and Mia and they’ve lived in France for a year, having fled England in the midst of a mysterious scandal. Susannah is determined to befriend the young couple, partially out of loneliness, and after meeting them for the first time, Dominic goes along with her. In his case, he sees in Ben a young man he can postulate to, and given Ben’s naivety, it all falls into place for the older couple.
Despite the narrative being very tight, it’s also extremely artful. I loved this passage from early on, where Mia is reflecting on her night walks around her new home:
“Over the last few days, the house explored in the dreaming hours has become more familiar to me. I feel a growing affection for the odd creaks and sighs and shifting shadows. The dawn breeze seems to slow and thread itself through the house as if enfolding us, and no longer buffeting against us.”
There’s just a wonderful infusion of atmosphere throughout the entire novel. The yellow villa has a bit of a history and I enjoyed learning of it. It’s not a major part of the story but its disclosure to Mia forms a springboard for better things down the track, a lovely example of connectivity between characters over time. I liked the conveyance of life as an expat as well, particularly the inferences around country of origin and how this determines your welcome from the French locals.
Dominic would have to be one of the most authentically despicable, misogynistic, self-centered waste of space human beings I have ever encountered on the page. What an absolutely brilliant character! His ego was insatiable and his reflections on himself as he wrote his memoirs were hysterical. Poor Susannah, for all her faults, I forgave them at once as soon Dominic’s true character was evident. No one would ever deserve to be stuck with someone such as him – his downfall was a perfect example of natural justice. There was a ‘fargo-esque’ quality to the happenings within Susannah’s and Dominic’s household. The pair and their goings on were outrageous and yet entirely plausible. I was heartened to witness Susannah’s character growth, particularly towards the end. She was a character I tucked into my heart early on in the novel.
“Now she is discovering that she can stare into that abyss and see beyond the darkness. There is a faint glow in the distance, and as she moves towards it she knows it will become brighter and expand around her and she will be comforted by it. She will step into the light on her own. It will be her light. And she is determined to walk towards it every day.”
Mia also grew immeasurably over the course of the novel. She discovered many things about herself and in the end, so did Ben. Her friendship with Susannah was admirable, her integrity and empathy weighing in at some difficult moments and I was so pleased with how she helped Susannah when she was at her most needy, despite feeling at odds about it. She read Dominic like a book right from the start which of course weighed in when making her decision to help Susannah. Where Ben was a bit of a fence sitter regarding Dominic, preferring to view him as eccentric and forgive him his faults, Mia was firmly unsettled by him right from the beginning, viewing him from an angle that was impossible for Ben: that of a dismissed woman. The superb characterisation employed by Amanda Hampson is a standout feature of this novel. Each chapter alternated between one of the four, balancing the story and maximising the entertainment value. The ending worked so well for me, for all four characters. I highly recommend The Yellow Villa, it’s a most enjoyable novel that will have you snickering throughout and occasionally swallowing a bitter pill.
Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of The Yellow Villa for review.
About the Author:
Amanda Hampson grew up in rural New Zealand. She spent her early twenties travelling, finally settling in Australia in 1979 where she now lives in Sydney’s Northern Beaches. Writing professionally for more than 20 years she has had numerous articles and two non-fiction books published. ‘The Olive Sisters’ was her highly successful fiction debut.