What a delightful book. Jenny’s neighbour Andrew seeks her out to tell her he has found her husband in bed with his wife – the rest of the book deals with the fall out of this infidelity. It is an entertaining read, which considers why we make life choices, and how to stay above the morass of insecurity that often bubbles beneath us.
Dave, Jenny’s husband, moves out, leaving her living on the farm that has been in her family for generations. She has two young children, Nathan and Lily, a needy sister living down in Wellington, and parents who still help Jenny but who are thinking a proper retirement with money from selling the farm is an attractive proposition. There are men around her who are keen to help, but some of them are more interested in taking advantage of a woman on a valuable property.
Despite finding out Dave’s infidelities have been plural, Jenny wonders whether she should take him back, for the sake of the children. And this is at the heart of the novel, Jenny is actually quite relieved when she finds out about Dave’s affair, as she got together with the idea of him rather than getting to know him, believing farmers were “by definition quiet, capable, manly men with understated senses of humour and the ability to fix anything at all with duct tape, number eight wire or both.” She has been living her life for the sake of others for a long time, and wonders if she has finally been given a chance to live a life that is right for her.
The neighbour bearing bad news, Andrew, plays a Darcy-like character, grumpy and taciturn, but he does provide his brother, Harry, to help on Jenny’s farm, and the pair of them end up providing some trustworthiness in her life. Jenny is a great character, with the very feminine trait of blaming herself for everything and failing to see how competent she is in her multi-tasking life. She is great with Lily and Nathan, has a part-time job as the Building Control Officer in the Council, manages to organise a jumble sale for Lily’s school’s fundraiser, can whisk up meals, has a fabulous garden, oh, and she manages a large beef and sheep farm.
There is a bit of a puzzle in When it all went to custard, as there is a solution to Jenny’s problems, which the reader perceives before the characters, which adds a nice element to the novel. It is also a very funny read, laugh-out-loud in places, such as when her loud doctor rings her in the middle of a farm management meeting, or when she is discovered playing air guitar with Lily. Another aspect of the book I loved was Hawkin’s descriptions of Jenny’s love of the land: “In the paddock below them the pet lambs, released from leading class, raced across the hillside in a mad twilight game of tag. The air was soft and golden and full of the clamour of birds settling down for the night.” This book is a therapeutic read, not shying away from difficult situations, or gruesome details of farm life, or the sadness of unexpected changes in people’s lives, but letting you know that for the characters that deserve it, things will work out OK.