Publishing year: 2010
A while ago I read “The Beach Hut Next Door” by the same author, which was written later, but it is about the same premise. We read about a series of characters who all own a beach hut.
The first character who we get to meet is Roy Mason, who is the caretaker of the huts. Roy has a weakness for the first hut which was built on the beach fifty years ago. This house used to belong to a family, but now it belongs to the eldest daughter, Jane, who Roy had a crush on when they were just teenagers. Jane calls him now to tell him that she has put the hut on the market. Her husband died recently, and then she found out that he had left her nothing but debts, so she had to sell her house, and now she has to sell the hut. We know that Roy liked her in those days, but he always felt she was too much for him, and when she sometimes hang out with him, he was too afraid to touch her.
Jane’s memories takes us back in time when she seventeen. When she was a child, she had been happy when her father had shown them the beach hut. When she was seventeen and had finished secretarial college, she was unhappy, having to spend the summer on the beach. At seventeen Jane has discovered the pleasures of nightlife in London, so she was bored in Everdene. Things changed when her mother found her a job as a typist with a writer, Terence Shaw. Terence Shaw was temperamental and even rude, but Jane enjoyed her time typing his novel, which she found fascinating. At some point in the novel she found herself moved to tears, and Terence turned up. He admitted that he was the character in the novel, and feeling moved Jane hugged him, and then they kissed, and that afternoon Jane loses her virginity. The following days are bliss even though Terence still shows a very strange personality. Jane knows she is in love with him. The day she is about to type his last pages, something happens. A woman, Barbara, appears at the house, and she knows that she is something more than a friend for Terence. Jane feels betrayed, especially when she overhears Terence reassuring Barbara that Jane is mousy and nothing to look at. Anger grips her, and she goes to wood burner and throws the handwritten manuscript there, and she is about to shove the typed version as well, but instead she puts it in her bag, and leaves just the first page, making Terence believe that she has burnt the whole thing.
Terence goes to find her the next day. He is not angry, but mellow, and he only tells her that he has ruined a whole year of work. This was decades ago, and when recently Jane discovered the typed manuscript when she was sorting out everything for Graham, she thought that her revenge was beyond past. So she contacted Terence Shaw, went to see him and gave him the manuscript. She also told him that she was in love with him and hurt her terribly. Actually, Jane admits to herself that she never found the passion anywhere else. That summer decades ago she tried to prove herself she could feel the same and kissed Roy, but she didn’t feel anything. As Terence and Jane are face-to-face now and she tells him about what he did to her, he says that she had a lucky escape as he hasn’t been able to love his women right. And in that moment Jane realises he is right; he wouldn’t have made her happy, so it was lucky she didn’t marry him after all.
The second story is about Sarah, married and with two little girls. Sarah travels to Evergreen, where she has her beach hut, as she is considering cheating on her husband. When she married Ian, Sarah was totally in love, but things changed when Ian got a promotion and started to hobnob well-off colleagues and acquaintances. Ian was then obsessed with money and luxury. They sold their house and moved to a bigger one, bought a couple of apartments because they were a good inversion, he got better cars, and he was always going on at Sarah because she didn’t want to change and behaved and dressed as she had always done. Sarah is now disenchanted, and at a party she meets Oliver Bishop, a barrister, and there is a powerful attraction between them from the first. They meet once for lunch, and it is clear what Oliver and she want. They agree they could have their tryst in her beach hut. When Sarah gets there, she regrets her decision, but as soon as Oliver turns up, she forgets about everything else, and they finally do the deed. Sarah tells herself that this is a one-off, but she knows that if Oliver were to call, she would wobble.
Then to her surprise Ian turns up with the girls, and his expression tells her that there is something wrong. While he goes to buy some lunch, he tries to get rid of the evidence of her lover. She is afraid that Ian knows about what has happened. They can’t talk before the children, and when they girls go to bed, Ian finally spills the beans. He has been made redundant and is afraid of what they are going to do now. Sarah tries to be optimistic, telling him that they still have each other and have money, and she could try to get more assignments as an illustrator, and they could even try to start some internet site, and Ian could run it. Ian is not very forthcoming and it is clear he is derisive about her ideas. Then her phone rings. It is Oliver, and then she tells her that her husband has been made redundant, and she can’t cope with that on top of an affair, and they shouldn’t see each other again. Oliver is cold, and just tells her that she has his number and should call him whenever she wants to. When Sarah steps onto the porch, Ian is fast asleep, and she wonders how now that he has unloaded his worries, the problem has become hers, and less his.
The third character is Fiona, who is also married and with two children. Fiona is a star in her social circle, part of every committee and school thing. However, Fiona has a problem. She drinks too much. Things come to head when she crashes her car into a lamppost and when the police breathalyse her, she is twice over the limit. Her husband, Tim, is not happy, and he tells her that they should give each other some time away. He is not very sympathetic or tries to help her, and Fiona decides to travel to the beach hut that Tim and his brothers own.
On the way there Fiona thinks about her past. When she was growing up, she didn’t have it easy as her mother was manic-depressive. When she tried to kill herself for the third time, her father sent Fiona to boarding school. Fiona fit in there easily and became popular, which antagonised one of the other girls, Tracey Pike, who was a bully. One day Tracey was in one of her moods and dared another girl Lindsay to walk on the staircase banister over four floors. Lindsay was a very vulnerable girl and wanted to prove herself. Fiona tried to diffuse the situation, telling Tracey she would do it. Since Fiona was nimble and fit, she manages to walk from one newel to another without problem. Then Lindsay said she would do it, but she was unsteady. Fiona’s heart was in her mouth, and she raised her hand to help Lindsay, but the latter shook her off and when she continued, she staggered and fell down. Fiona and the other saw how her body hit the railings below and was killed. Then Tracey came, telling everybody that they should simply say that they came to find Lindsay walking on the banister, and then she turned to Fiona, telling her that she was the one who should keep quiet in the first place. Lindsay had to walk on the banister after Fiona did it, and when she offered to grab her hand, it made her lose her concentration, and Fiona give the last coup of grace: Lindsay was dead because of Fiona. All the girls kept quiet, and Lindsay had a discreet funeral as the school tried to keep shush about the whole thing.
This episode in Fiona’s life has shaped her life as an adult. She has been happy with her husband and children, but the feeling of guilt was always at the back of her mind, and this is the reason why she drank, because she wanted to forget. Now in the beach hut, she calls Tracey, and when the woman comes, Fiona tells her that she is going to confess what happened with Lindsay. Tracey tells her that fessing up now will only bring grief for Lindsay’s family, and what will bring to the others? Fiona knows that Tracey is right, and she can tell that the episode also affected Tracey, who is a workaholic and has no family.
When Tracey goes, Fiona, who hasn’t drunk in over thirty-six hours, decides to call Tim. He is not very forthcoming when she tells him that he and the children should join her. He is quite unkind, telling her that he doesn’t wish to see her, and he should consider finding an apartment for herself. He even tells her that he and the children are much happier without her.
Fiona is shattered by his words. So she does what she has always done: drink. In the local pub she gets plastered as she downs vodka after vodka. The pub is filled, and a group of men come in, dressed up as fairies as they are celebrating a stag night. One of them, Liam, hooks up with her, and when Fiona decides to leave, Liam walks her to the beach hut, and they go to bed together. When Fiona wakes up the following day, she hardly remembers what happened. She even wonders if she has been raped, but then little by little she remembers the night and feels she has hit rock bottom. She realises that she needs help, and despite what she told Tracey the day before, she needs to talk about what makes her drink. So she decides that despite how things are between her and Tim, he is the one she calls, intending to tell him the truth. The chapter ends there, and I wonder if Fiona will reappear in another chapter to see what happens with her.