The Holiday Friend by Pamela Hansford Johnson

 The Holiday Friend cover

The Holiday Friend by Pamela Hansford Johnson was first published in 1972 but was republished by Hodder and Stoughton in 2018.

Gavin Eastwood is a college lecturer and happily married to Hannah for many years, they have an eleven year old son. They had hoped to have more children but it just never happened, the result is that they are very over-protective of their son Giles and as a consequence he’s rather immature for his age.

For several years they’ve gone to The Hotel Albert in a small coastal town in Belgium, the food is good, everyone is so friendly there and it feels like a home from home to the Eastwoods. Unknown to them a young woman has followed them there. Melissa is a student at the college where Gavin teaches and although she isn’t one of his students she attends all of his lectures, sitting at the back just ogling him. She’s absolutely besotted with him so when she heard Gavin in passing telling a colleague where he was going on holiday with his family, Melissa was delighted, she scraped up the money and booked a room at a cheaper hotel in the same town. She is quite sure that as she loves Gavin so much he must return her feelings and she fantasises about being married to him. She’s a very immature 22 year old.

Almost immediately on her arrival Melissa seeks out Gavin and family, Gavin vaguely recognises her and in no time she’s inserted herself into their lives, all the time barely acknowledging Hannah. The wife realises what is happening immediately, as do the other guests but if Gavin is being honest he rather likes the attenton of a much younger woman and doesn’t immediately rebuff Melissa as he should. Hannah is seething at the effrontery of Melissa’s behaviour and the idiocy of her husband who she knows is not in the least bit interested in Melissa but doesn’t want to squash her. But Melissa is so determined in her mission to have Gavin that the only thing that would derail her plans would be a good dose of brutal truth.

Gavin and Hannah’s longed for holiday is ruined as they spend time trying to avoid Melissa, and dealing with their worries about Giles who has had a slight temperature. Giles has had quite a lot of time on his own on the beach and elsewhere, and they haven’t really being paying him as much attention as usual. You just know that things are not going to end well.

This was a really good read.

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom

The Cheval Glass cover

The Cheval Glass by Ursula Bloom was first published in 1973. It isn’t the first book that I’ve read by the author but the ones I have read were much earlier. I really expected to see that this book was one of her last – as it’s shot full of holes. It only has 183 pages and I read it in a couple of sittings and when you do that it’s so noticeable when the same man’s hand is described as being smooth and brown – then later on as being wrinkled, when the author wanted to point out how much older he was than his young love interest.

The setting is Norfolk and Hilary is a young artist who is renting the lodge house of a large house called Whitethorn. Her landlord is James, a 60 year old retired army officer, married to Margaret and with a young daughter and two much older sons.

In no time flat James and Hilary have embarked on an affair. James is very much attracted to much younger women. When Margaret falls terminally ill Hilary moves into Whitethorn to help look after her. By now she has formed a close relationship with Pearl the young daughter. Pearl is obsessed with a cheval glass which is housed in the attic and talks about the lady in the mirror.

This book isn’t well or even carefully written and I hated the fact Margaret is not allowed to know how ill she is, it brought back so many bad memories for me as I experienced that situation while I was helping my mother to nurse my father when he was terminally ill. For me it meant such a waste of precious time – lying about a situation that my father well knew about – but my mother couldn’t cope with. But it’s what some people used to do.

As I said previously – I expected this to be one of Ursula Bloom’s last books as it is so carelessly written but according to Wiki she wrote over 500 books in her lifetime under various names – just churning them out, so it is no surprise that it’s so badly written. According to the Fantastic Fiction link at the beginning of this post she wrote fourteen other books in 1973. Quantity over quality obviously! Did she write them, or was it some sort of franchise deal? -As often happens in publishing.

Ursula Bloom (1892 – 1984) aka Sheila Burns, Mary Essex, Rachel Harvey, Deborah Mann, Lozania Prole.