You might think that time travel romances aren't normally my kind of thing, but there was something about the description of Ferney that made it sneak into my basket a while ago. The time travel romance tag turned out to be woefully inadequate for this complex and nuanced novel, which I loved for its warm characters and highly original plot, quite unlike anything I'd ever read before.
We are introduced to Mike and Gally Martin, who are looking for a new home together somewhere in the West Country. Mike adores his wife, but he feels she needs his protection too; her mental state is sometimes fragile, she can be a little disconnected at times, and at night she suffers from terrible nightmares. One day the couple stumble across a dilapidated cottage in Somerset and Gally immediately falls in love with it. She feels as though she knows this place in some deep, inexplicable way and this feeling grows even stronger when she meets an old man, Ferney, who lives nearby. Ferney seems to know her, though they have never met before, and Gally in turn is drawn to him. The feeling of coming home is so comforting that Gally soon persuades Mike to buy the cottage and have it turned into their new home.
Once restoration of the cottage is underway, Mike and Gally start to see a lot more of Ferney. Gally's relationship with the old man grows ever closer, and he seems to understand her and ease her fears in a way that Mike never could. When Ferney explains the reason for their deep connection Gally is shocked, but she can't deny the truth of what he says.
The relationships between the characters in Ferney are fascinating, particularly in the case of Mike. He can see Gally getting closer to Ferney and it bothers him, but Ferney is an old man in his eighties and Gally is twenty something, so he feels guilty for feeling jealous. He worries that Ferney's tall tales will influence Gally negatively, but at the same time he can see his wife becoming calmer and more secure as she spends more time with him. I was really impressed at how the author manages to make Ferney and Gally's relationship so sweet and tender without ever feeling icky. Somehow we are able to look past Ferney's age to the person inside, and we are able to imagine how Gally feels when she is with him. There's a lot more I could say to explain why this works, but I don't want to give away too much of the plot, so just trust me, it's all ok!
One of the great joys of Ferney is its sense of place; it's deeply rooted in the Somerset countryside and I could almost smell the fresh air and fields as I was reading. The historical sections are fascinating too, and it brought events from history to life in a way that a dusty textbook never could. I felt I learned a lot from these sections, which was a nice bonus I hadn't expected.
I was very happy to hear that a sequel to Ferney has recently been published, and I shall definitely be reading that very soon. In fact, I might just dowload it to my kindle now and spend the rest of the afternoon happily engrossed in a bucolic epic love story. Marvellous stuff.