Everlasting Lane

By Andrew Lovett

(Melville House, $25.95, 368 pages)

Who is this author?

Andrew Lovett is a British author and teacher and a married father of three who lives in York, turns 50 this year and has based Everlasting Lane, his debut novel, partly on his own childhood.  Here are some thoughts about his work that he posted in 2013 on his website, Andrewlovett.co.uk:

“If, like me, you’re a human being, a flawed bag of flesh, blood and bones, struggling to make sense of your world and the people with whom you share it; struggling, perhaps, to even make sense of yourself, then you already know something of what Everlasting Lane is about.

“The book is the result of twenty years work and initially inspired by a family tragedy; events of twenty years ago, the consequences of which continue to play out and affect lives to this day.

“Everlasting Lane is a real street in St Albans, Hertfordshire which I used to drive past when visiting one of the local secondary schools – I was a Year 6 teacher at the time.

“I always thought it sounded like the title of a children’s book which is how I originally wrote it. I assume the name is ironic as the street itself is alarmingly short.”

What is this book about?

Peter is a little boy – 10 years old – when his father dies and his mother chooses to leave the city and install them in a house in the country, where she insists Peter once lived, though he cannot recall that. There is a lot about the world that Peter does not understand, just like most kids his age. But most kids don’t suddenly have their mothers tell them to now call her Aunt Kat, or live in houses with a secret locked room where mother spends time alone. He’s an outsider at his new school, but does acquire two friends who also are loners: too-fat Tommie and too-precocious Anna-Marie. They make the acquaintance of the hermit-like Mr. Merridew and Scarecrow Man. And Peter grows increasingly troubled by whatever it is that his mother is hiding in that mysterious locked room. This is a nostalgic look at childhood interlaced with a sad, dark family history. And it makes you think that it’s possible that memory itself is a kind of everlasting lane.

Why you’ll like it:

Lovett is a largely unknown writer, but his talents are obvious to the reader. He tells this coming-of-age story with tenderness and humor, capturing the bewilderment and challenges of childhood. Here is what he told rifflebooks.com about the book:

“I’ve dreamt and day-dreamed of being a writer ever since the age of fourteen after reading Catcher in the Rye, but my early attempts were pretty embarrassing and now sit gathering dust in the attic. Experience gave me something real to write about, the desire to commit to the task and the drive to get it done. Except in exceptional circumstances, I’m not sure how people who have their first novel published in their twenties can have anything of substance to say. I know I didn’t.

“The plot/s of Everlasting Lane came from a whole range of experiences; my childhood, my relationship with my mother, my career as a teacher etc. The characters also come from all over. The character of Anna-Marie first appeared in a short story I wrote whilst teaching. She later forced her way into Everlasting Lane by sheer strength of personality.

“I’m too cynical and middle-aged to cite Holden Caulfield as a hero nowadays. I have always empathized with Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I really relate to the permanently startled expression he wears as the universe continually throws curve-balls at him. A real hero, though, would be Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird. He represents a moral courage which I would love to imagine I would show in similar circumstances.

Good news for those who like this book: it is the first of a planned trilogy.

Lovett says: “Part 2 is called As if We Were Still and is set in a college in the mid-1980s. Part 3 is set in a primary school in the mid-1990s but I haven’t yet settled on a title. As to what they’re about, you’ll have to wait and see.”

What others are saying:

Publishers Weekly says: “British author Lovett’s engrossing debut, partly based on events from his own childhood, follows 10-year-old Peter Lambert, who is uprooted by his mother to go live in a “dusty and undisturbed” cottage in the Amberley countryside in the mid-1970s after his WWII veteran father’s untimely death. Even more confounding than his new environment are his mother’s decision to change her name to Kat; her reference to the fact that he’d lived in the town before; and the plucky, dominating behavior of Anna-Marie, the girl next door. Peter befriends Anna-Marie along with Tommie Winslow, a schoolmate who eventually competes with Peter for the girl’s attentions. The unexpected trio bring Everlasting Lane to vibrant life along with a host of peripheral characters, including harsh grade school teacher Mr. Gale and a few local eccentrics such as reclusive Mr. Merridew, a hermit living in a wooded cabin, and Dr. Todd, a secretive physician who becomes Kat’s special friend. While Peter narrates the story with the naive, goofy curiosity of a young boy, there are also thin swaths of the bitterness and angst more befitting his aggrieved mother. She’s hiding a secret behind one of their cottage’s locked doors, and it becomes one of Peter’s burdensome obsessions. Familial melodrama and confusion are resolved and explained as Lovett’s creative tale broadens into an exploratory, discovery-filled journey for three zany outcasts—“a fluttering rabble of butterflies,” each taking in the world one revelation at a time.”

Kirkus’ starred review says: Debut novelist Lovett offers a dreamy portrait of an English childhood, with some sharp edges beneath the blur. Following the death of his father, 9-year-old Peter and his mother move from London to a mysterious house in the country. Peter states at the onset of the novel, “I can’t promise that this is the way it was, not exactly, only that this was perhaps how it sometimes seemed to be.” He tells and retells stories, all in luminous and evocative language, as he begins to realize that the secrets of the past are layered and complex. Among the many changes that occur quite quickly in Peter’s life is his mother’s strange request that he refer to her as Kat and keep the details of their home life to himself. That secret, and the secrets that begin to rise up all around him, become more difficult to protect when he meets Anna-Marie, a bossy neighborhood girl, and Tommie, an outcast schoolmate. Taking to the countryside, they begin to investigate a series of intertwined mysteries stemming from the discovery of a hidden room within Peter’s new house, a museumlike nursery filled with artifacts for a lost baby girl that the children long to understand. The narrative is driven by images, connecting and unfolding like the mysteries beneath the surface: mirrors, clocks, butterflies and a storybook rambling through the physical Everlasting Lane, lush and green and seemingly unending. Deeper still is the reminder that the narrative itself is connected to the realm of imagination, as Peter muses on the idea that like stories, real life can be amended for happy endings and a second chance to make the right decision. Beautifully written, and as charming as it is dark, the novel unwraps the endless secrets that elude a child.”

Library Journal says: “Peter is at that phase where he doesn’t quite understand adults and the consequences of one’s actions. He fills his ten-year-old world with imagination, exploration, and playtime with his two new friends, Anna-Marie and Tommie; this helps him escape from his mother’s sadness and the uneasy feeling that he did something to make her blue. Though the same age as Peter, Anna-Marie has a grown-up understanding of the world, which can get her into trouble. As Peter and friends travel down life’s lane, they meet odd neighbors and encounter disapproving adults; Peter learns that adults can be weighed down by secrets, and he starts to realize how his actions affect others. VERDICT The experience told through a child’s eye, with Peter always two steps behind Anna-Marie, is authentically rendered, and Lovett creates a realistically naïve narrator in Peter. Although the viewpoint is simplified, Lovett’s writing is sophisticated and evocative. Anna-Marie’s dialog is cheeky and entertaining, yet she also has a vulnerable side and is endearing as an outcast and as Peter’s fearless friend. The strong points in this sometimes meandering tale of a British childhood are the absorbing literary writing, the vibrancy of Anna-Marie, and the dynamic among the three friends.”

When is it available?

Everlasting Lane is on the shelves of the Downtown Hartford Public Library and its Mark Twain branch.

Do you have something to say about this book, this author or books in general? Please post your comments here and I will respond. Let’s get a good books conversation going!

Comments are closed.