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Shire Hell by Rachel Johnson
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Shire Hell

by Rachel Johnson

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In her previous book Rachel Johnson offered a very entertaining account of life in one of the communal garden squares of Notting Hill, where conspicuous expenditure had become virtually a competitive sport, and keeping up with the neighbours dominated every thought. The novel focused on Mimi Fleming and Clare Sturgis, next door neighbours and close friends, ad their different experiences of life in the square.

In 'Shire Hell' Mimi and her family have moved to West Dorset, and are struggling to adapt to a very different , and only slightly less competitive lifestyle. We are given alternating narratives from Mimi and her new friend, Rose, who had also moved down to Dorset a few years earlier. Rose is married to Pierre, an indolent and slovenly husband, who purports to be an artist but hasn't sold any work for years. Perpetually peeved that she has to d support the family almost single-handed, Rose diverts herself with a series of flings with an assortment of different men, and has cultivated a reputation in the village as a 'fallen woman'.

The alternating narrative format works well. Mimi's and Rose's different perspectives lend a verisimilitude to the episodes they recount, and Johnson's sharp observation is at work throughout. While there is very little action, Johnson details a series of social set pieces, including a formal evening dinner, a fortieth birthday lunch, a village fete and a visit to a local eco-village inhabited by environmentalists, before the novel ends with a wedding that cuts across the classes. Each of these events is described with meticulous detail, and is marked by a startling revelation - some very humorous, others quite tragic.

While this lacked the originality of 'Notting Hell' it was entertaining, strewn with pen pictures that were as delicious as they were vicious. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Jan 19, 2016 |
A potboiler from the Johnson household, busy and possibly interesting if you already live in the charmed circle of middle class townies who have left Notting Hill for Somerset, er, I mean Devon.

I did think Rachel Johnson wrote at least one very touching passage and she made me laugh at least three times, so that earns her, ooh, 2 stars at least. ( )
  J.Bryan | Sep 29, 2012 |
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Mimi, Ralph and their three children have moved to the Dorset countryside, a place without a world class deli in spitting distance, a place to get away from the awful competitiveness of London life, where no one cares what you wear, there are no politics to speak of, and you can get away from exhaust fumes. Right? Totally wrong!… (more)

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