Thursday, June 12, 2014

Au Reservoir - Guy Fraser-Sampson

One of the perks of blogging is that the longer you do it the more likely you are to be offered books to review. Sometimes they do not (to be kind) sound like the sort of book I would ever want to read (but it's still nice to be asked) sometimes they are books I've been getting quietly excited about and I feel like it's my birthday, and sometimes they're books that I'm a little bit on the fence about.  'Au Reservoir' falls into that last category - but there is always the chance that these are books which will turn out to be particularly rewarding, and they're hard to say no to for just that reason. Also I don't have much practice at saying no to books - it doesn't come naturally.

The dilemma with this book is that I like Guy Fraser-Sampson, I really like his publicity lady (she's charming) and I love Mapp and Lucia but I have a deep and abiding prejudice against books which re-hash other authors creations - or at least the creations that I already know and love. It's quite a bit of baggage to bring to a book that I finally picked up because I wanted something light that I could read quickly as an antidote to a really hellish work week (it was only Wednesday, that's how bad a week it's shaping up into). 

Guy Fraser-Sampson has written 3 (I think it's 3) sequels to Benson's originals and I guess they also take in the Tom Holt titles which I read back in the '80's and can now hardly remember 'Au Reservoir' is the last of his 3, and without giving to much away (there is the clue of the title) likely to be his final word on the matter. It is some time after the war, rationing is still in place but otherwise it all seems a bit of a distant memory - nevertheless the Tilling residents are aging, Lucia is even considering admitting to being 40 after at least 2 decades of firmly remaining in her 30's and Elizabeth Mapp-Flint is determined to have one last tilt at her enemy.

First of all the negative impressions. There are a lot of explanations of things that have happened in previous books - Benson may also have done this, I can't quite remember, but it's a pet hate for me. I'm assuming that the major market for this book will be Benson fans (and Guy Fraser-Sampson fans) followed by people who like the look of it and then may go onto explore Benson. In my opinion none of them/us need so many explanations, personally I find them a distraction. Second up is the reason I've yet to find a book like this that I really love - my reading of the characters isn't quite the same as Guy's so the direction he takes them in doesn't always ring true for me (particularly in the case of Georgie Pillson) though as this is the last in a sequence I haven't read this is maybe a little unfair as I haven't followed the journey all the way through. Finally the charm for me in the original books was the relatively small scale of goings on - deadly war waged over a recipe or the revamping of an old dress, the scale of this book is rather more lavish involving Noel Coward, John Gielgud, a priceless roman coin, and Georgie being taken seriously by the artistic establishment thanks to the revamping of the royal opera house - I think I wanted less.

On the plus side Guy is very good on wine (and drink generally, I bet he mixes a truly good martini) it's a small detail but it's a real pleasure for me to see someone get it so right, he's also interesting on money (which I believe is his day job) how Lucia handles hers is ingenious. The book is an undoubted page turner and I absolutely understand why plenty of Benson fans have enjoyed it very much indeed. For myself I'm glad I said yes to a copy, reading it felt like time well enough spent and it certainly improved my mood enough to lower my blood pressure sufficiently to get through a series of doctors appointments today (on Tuesday I suspect I would have been in trouble) and for that alone I owe a considerable debt of thanks.


  1. I loved the first two sequels Guy F-S wrote (particularly the second, where I kept forgetting that it wasn't by EFB) so I was very interested to read your review - and intrigued! The charming publicity lady did offer me a copy but it never arrived, so I will have to hunt one out.

  2. For me this is the bookish equivalent of poking a bruise. I know I approach them with a whole lot of prejudices but do it anyway just to see if anything has changed which isn't really fair on the author.