Book Review: Learning to Speak American, by Colette Dartford

Publisher: Twenty 7  |  Publication date: Kindle – 5th November 2015 / Paperback – 14th July 2016

Learning to Speak American - My review

This novel eloquently tackles the deeply troubling relationship between two people whose lives have been torn apart by a harrowing event, and works to chip away at the walls they have built to protect themselves from facing the reality of it.

Duncan and Lola have everything, everything, that is, except a child. This story is a powerful portrayal of the fallout a couple experiences following the tragic death of their only daughter. Since the incident, Lola and Duncan have been standing on the edge of the massive ‘Clarissa shaped’ hole in their lives, neither one of them having the strength to tackle it.

Lola is withdrawn from the world, a shell of her former self, while Duncan working all hours and permanently engaging in furtive behaviour throughout the book. The emotion and suffering appears endless. With both of them suffering in their own private hell, he suggests they take a holiday to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and try to rekindle something of their past relationship. Lola robotically agrees.

They visit the beautiful Napa Valley and experience fabulous wine, gorgeous climate and the Californian way of life. It’s there where Lola feels hope in the shape of a dilapidated property in need of renovation. The fact it’s been empty for years makes her believe she could to breathe new life into it, to make it whole again. Something she couldn’t do for her child.

The locals are relaxed and welcoming, addressing each other by their first names, which is alien to ‘stiff upper lip’ Duncan. Yet he reluctantly plays his part in this chilled company, as it’s the first time he’s seen his wife smile in over two years. During the renovation these new neighbours and friends help to open all manner of emotional doors for them. It’s only then that the magnitude of their daughter’s loss becomes clear. While the experience is a positive one for Lola, it would appear Duncan’s been keeping more than just his own grief from her, and the strain is becoming unbearable.

The process of transforming the little house in need of repair offers the couple solace in more ways than they could ever imagine. The lovely, lovely writing throughout captures the changes to their fragile relationship perfectly, and it’s wonderfully done.

(There’s just one curious loose end for me – what became of ‘Polo’? As he was a living memory of their daughter’s life I’d have expected him to have been mentioned in the epilogue, if only in passing. It’s a minute factor, but I can’t help wondering!)

Rating: 4/5

(My thanks for Midas PR and Twenty 7 Books for providing an ARC of this book for review.)

Learning to Speak American - Book Summary

(Courtesy of Amazon UK)

Having suffered in silence since the tragic death of their young daughter, Lola and Duncan Drummond’s last chance to rediscover their love for one another lies in an anniversary holiday to the gorgeous Napa Valley.

Unable to talk about what happened, Duncan reaches out to his wife the only way he knows how – he buys her a derelict house, the restoration of which might just restore their relationship.

As Lola works on the house she begins to realise the liberating power of letting go. But just as she begins to open up, Duncan’s life begins to fall apart.

Colette Dartford’s debut novel, Learning to Speak American, explores whether a parent can ever truly move on from the death of a child. And, after all the heartbreak, whether Lola and Duncan can learn to love again.

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Learning to Speak American - Author Links

(Courtesy of press release with ARC)

Colette DartfordLearning to Speak American, is Colette Dartford’s debut novel and is based on her experience of renovating a derelict house in California’s Napa Valley. Having bought and renovated the house, Colette lived there with her husband for many years before moving back to the UK. Colette wrote the book in California where it was a quarterfinalist in Amazon’s first novel award. Before becoming a writer, Colette worked as a Political Research Consultant in public policy for many years and has an MPhil in Political Science. Her second novel, The Sinners, will be published by Bonnier in 2017.

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