Desert Isle Keeper
The Ashford Affair
As a longtime fan of Ms. Willig’s Pink Carnation series, I had mixed feelings when I heard about this stand-alone novel. The historical portion set in post-WWI Nairobi sounded fascinating, but how would this stack up? And when I learned that there was a different narrator, I was even more nervous. No Pink Carnation? No narration by Kate Reading? My worries were put to rest within minutes of starting my listen.
In her DIK review of the print version, Lynn calls this a “great big romantic epic” and I agree completely. Though classified as historical fiction, it has a wonderful romantic feel and both the narration and story are DIKs for me as well. While The Ashford Affair does flip back and forth between a modern and historical story just as the books in the Pink Carnation series do, it’s very different both in time period and tone.
The book opens as 26-year-old Addie is bound for Nairobi on a train in 1926. Ms. Barber has a pleasant voice with a British accent, and it fit completely both with Addie’s personality and the circumstances. I felt Addie’s exhaustion. I felt the heat and dust right along with her as she first faced the bright sun of Nairobi. And I felt her pain when she sees her cousin Bea at the station and realizes that, despite her best efforts, she’s still unsophisticated and inappropriately dressed in comparison to the more sophisticated Bea.
I was initially confused when next we jump to Clementine (Clemmie) Evans in 1999. The narrator seems to use the same voice for the narrative/descriptive portions in all time periods and locations. At first I thought Clemmie must be British as well. However, when Clemmie speaks, it’s with a clearly American accent. It turns out that Clemmie is heading to her Grannie Addie’s 99th birthday party, the same Addie we first encountered on a train. While at the party, Clemmie discovers a mystery about her family and over the course of the book she works to solve it.
The remainder of the book flips back and forth between Clemmie’s story and Addie’s life, from the time she was six-years-old through much of her adult life. Ms. Barber’s portrayal of Addie sounds age-appropriate as a 6, 26, and 99-year-old. The combination of Ms. Willig’s words and her narration tugged at my heart at times, most notably when poor little Addie is hiding in a closet, waiting for her aunt and uncle to take her away after the death of her parents.
At the core of Addie’s story is her relationship with two people: her cousin Bea and the love of her life, Frederick. Ms. Barber’s performance of both Bea and Frederick fits their personalities. All three are deeply touched by World War I as young adults. None of the characters are simple, perfect characters. Lynn notes in her review that the “multidimensional, occasionally unlikeable leads felt compellingly real to me. As a result, though the story has a happy, hopeful ending overall, when Addie and her loved ones go into some bleak places at times, my heart just broke for them.” This was my experience as well, and the narration enhanced the personalities of the characters. Bea and Frederick sound world weary and jaded, particularly when they’re together. In contrast, Addie sounds more innocent.
I did wonder about the age-appropriateness of Clemmie’s mother and aunt (both in their 70s). They sounded more like 40-year olds, but the tone matched the description of their personalities, so the narration didn’t draw me out of the story.
In the modern story, Clemmie also becomes close to Jon, who was briefly connected to the family through marriage, and who has maintained a close relationship with Addie. I liked Clemmie and Jon’s relationship, but it was the historical plot that completely captivated me.
If I had to use one word to describe this audiobook, it would be lovely. In the last hours of listening, I found myself repeatedly checking the amount of time remaining, not because I was eager for it to be over, but because I wanted the story to go on and on. And the ending was so wonderfully sweet, both for the modern saga and for the historical story.
While I continue to adore the Pink Carnation series, I now can’t wait for Ms. Willig to write additional standalones. Once I finished, I relistened to portions of the story and imagine that I will relisten to the entire book again at some time in the near future. It’s just that good.
Breakdown of Grade – Narration: A- and Book Content: A
Unabridged. Length – 13 hours 35 minutes