Netherwood by Jane Sanderson
Netherwood by Jane Sanderson Visiting my mother in Victoria this winter I ran out of books to read. She has a house full of books but nothing seemed to suit, so off I went to Russell Books – Victoria’s version of Toronto’s Book City, with even more books. Floors and floors of books to choose from. I had a couple in mind but ended up buying a mystery by a familiar author, and then a novel by a writer I had never heard of, Jane Sanderson, her first novel Netherwood. I picked the book up to look at because it claimed to be “perfect for fans of Downton Abbey”. I know, I know, how tacky, but I did just want a couple of books to pass the time for the next couple of days and the plane trip home. And, Netherwood, much to my surprise, really was the perfect choice.
Years ago a customer asked me to recommend a novel “without conflict.” I remember standing there quite stunned because there are so few – without “conflict” what is left? Well, Netherwood might fit the bill – there is, of course, some conflict between characters but it is, overall, just a nice story. Jane Sanderson is British, she worked as a radio producer for the BBC, she is literate in the way that British writers are. She has created a cast of characters we can all relate to in some way, and set them on a country estate much like Downton Abbey at much the same time. The story begins in 1901, a year after the death of Queen Victoria. We have the gentry, the Lord and Lady and their three almost adult children, and we have the villagers. The men work in the coal mines owned by the Lord and the women bear children and live mostly in poverty. It is Eve who becomes our heroine and it is her life that is at the centre of the novel, as she steps outside of what is expected of her and moves out into a much larger world than she might ever have known if life had not thrown tragedy in her way.
We learn about life on the estate and the village Lord Netherwood owns, the people he employs, and the life of coal miners at this time. We witness the lives of people with little or no choice or resources to make change in their lives, and see those who have some ambition – and some luck – who do manage to improve living conditions for their families.
I have to admit that this was not a book that stretched my intellect or imagination in any way – I would not describe it as invigorating – but a for novel to simply pass the time it was perfect. For those of you missing Downton Abbey, having now watched the last episode of the third season, this novel will provide some small comfort. At the end of this book you will discover that there is more to come – and when the next installment is released in North America I will read it, and I bet you will as well.