Just in time for all of us realising that a summer beach holiday in Cornwall is beyond the means of everyone but the super-rich, Jenny Colgan comes along to tell us all what we are missing. Her novel Sunrise by the Sea is the latest in a series following a community living on Mount Polbearne, a remote tidal island off the Cornish coast.
We are reintroduced to Polly and Huckle, a blissfully happy married couple living in a lighthouse. She runs an artisan bakery, he is a beekeeper and honey producer. They have adorable lisping four-year-old twins and a humorous pet puffin.
Just as you are beginning to think that this eminently Instagrammable set up is a little too sickly sweet, however, we are introduced to two newcomers to the village. Alexei is a huge Russian, employed at the school as a piano teacher. His English is sketchy, he has a startling beard and long hair, and hints at past heartbreak. Marisa is of Italian stock, but has relocated from London because the overwhelming grief at the death of her grandfather has put her at odds with the rich and vacuous party set she previously hung out with. On their insistence, she has taken a holiday chalet on the beach to try and recover from anxiety, agoraphobia and a deep well of misery.
Settled in adjoining cottages, with paper-thin dividing walls, the pair clash over their different lifestyles. Can they ever see that the other might be the answer to all their problems? Well of course they can. But the awkwardness and misunderstandings and that ensue still make for a sweet romance, however obvious the outcome.
Marisa skypes her eccentric grandmother in Italy, and the two bereaved women come to leave the internet window into each other’s lives open at all times, to ease their loneliness. Her Nonna sends produce from Italy and teaches Marisa to cook. The detailed rendering of dishes of truffles, tomatoes, pasta and mushrooms are mouthwatering and the fragrances wafted over the balcony soften the heart of the Russian next door.
His gentleness with his pupils – children as well as the odd lovelorn elderly spinster – is endearing, as is his habit of thanking Marisa for her food by playing through the wall.
It’s a delicate love story, told through food and music. In other food-based novels, Colgan has included recipes; for this one she has made a playlist of Alexei’s music on Spotify for readers to appreciate.
As with a lot of Colgan’s writing, some parts can feel cliched and a bit too perfect, but in her account of the effects of the long grief of Marisa, there are some beautiful and moving passages too.
Sunrise by the Sea, by Jenny Colgan, Little, Brown, 352pp, £14.99
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