Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Books, Australia, 2020
This book is beautiful both outside and in. Set briefly in Richmond Tasmania and then mostly in the imaginary village of Stoneden in the Cotswolds, the story is deeply rooted in a sense of place.
In fact, it is the search for her place in the world and for a family she feels she has always lacked, that drives our heroine Olivia, a cake maker, to apply to be part of a social experiment aimed at the economic revitalisation of this small dying community.
Descendants of original inhabitants are invited to an assisted start in a new business that might bring fresh life and an influx of visitors to a place largely being bought out of existence by wealthy Londoners seeking a country home which they seldom occupy (echoes of Venice).
Olivia also goes to Stoneden in search of her recently deceased grandmother’s story and hence to an understanding of her own life. Her other strong motivation is a new start for her young son who has been suffering from bullying at his school and has recently had a serious accident.
We follow the changing life of the community, the ups and downs of this Renaissance, along with the developments in Olivia’s love, personal and professional life. As we might predict, change does not come easily or without struggles, either to Stoneden or in Olivia’s own life.
Whilst the author takes us on a twisting story of secret pasts, ills unforgiven and forgiven, the forging of new relationships and the building of a new community, she invites us to consider many troubling matters of current life – gender stereotyping, domestic violence, the impact of social media, the manipulation of behaviour by big commercial interests, the rapidity of change, the breakdown of community, the nature of truth, to name a few.
At the same time, Josephine Moon manages to always make us feel comforted by this story and its people. There are more goodnesses to be found than evils and a fairy tale approach to the balance of these forces provides us with that nurturing read so many of us are craving – at this time and always, perhaps.
Josephine Moon is a fine storyteller with a clear affection and respect for the book people she welcomes into her fiction. Her command of pace and plot is deft. She has a talent for painting graphic scenes of past and present, with just enough detail to help us towards filling in our own lines and colours.
While she does not shirk from the portrayal of spite and mean behaviour, she manages always to give us the chance to make our own judgements and to, in the end, find the generosity it takes to forgive human foibles and faults. Probably, this is why we feel so good after finishing the book – we’ve found our better self.
Who could resist a trip to the Cotswolds after reading The Cake Maler’s WIsh – or indeed to Richmond Tasmania, misguided mammas notwithstanding. And full credit to the creators of the cover photography, cover design and beguiling front endpaper: Baleika Tamara/ Shutterstock, p_ponomareva/Shutterstock, zhu difeng/Shutterstock and Nikki Townsend Design respectively.