Do you really need to move to the other side of the world to start a new life? That’s what thirty-something former Sydneysiders Mia and Ben think, in The Yellow Villa (published by Penguin Random House, 2018), the fourth novel of Sydney based Australian author Amanda Hampson. The couple have moved lock, stock, and barrel to Cordes-sur-Ciel, a postcard perfect village in the south-west of France.
For a time it looks like they made the right decision. Life is sweet. They luxuriate in long balmy summer evenings in their new found rural idyllic. They live in a charming old house, and are beginning to put down roots. They have befriended Dominic and Susannah, a welcoming retired English couple from London, who likewise have recently made the move to the village. But will a new environment exorcise the problems of an old life?
As the chill winds of autumn set in, so do cracks in the dream of a new life. Mia and Ben are a couple in crisis. They struggle to fit in, and there are few people their age they can interact with. Mia, an art teacher, underestimates the difficulty of finding work. On top of that, worldly Dominic and Susannah are not quite who they appear to be either. Even the old villa poses its share of puzzles, with a room clearly once belonging to a child, mystifying and troubling Mia.
The Yellow Villa employs a narrative style that changes the grammatical person as perspectives switch from one character to another. Through this process, secrets, scandals, and marital woes are gradually exposed. It is absorbing stuff isn’t it; observing the problems of others. Things become worse before they inevitably become better, and possibly this is where the story falters, it might have been better served by a more ambiguous, open ended, conclusion.