Think your life has gone to custard? Danielle Hawkins’ hilarious guide to coping

In When it all went to custard by Danielle Hawkins, a provincial town is an impossibly difficult place to keep your business private.

When It All Went to Custard

So it's no surprise that when Jenny's husband shags the neighbour's wife, everyone she runs into has a special look for her along with plenty of advice; marital and otherwise.

In a great show of strength this tough Kiwi woman steadfastly refuses to allow her cheating husband Dave to come back.

The only active partner in her family farm, Jenny has to scramble to find a farm manager, manage her job at the local council vetting building consents, raise two bereft children and a dog.

Unfortunately the farming community, including her own family, don't have a lot of confidence in a woman running a farm on her own. 

This charming story of a woman going the hard yards is set in the King Country, with plenty of beautiful scenery around it.

Hawkins describes views, sunsets and soils so well you can almost hear the sheep calling (and smell the paddocks):

The moon was rising above the hills and the big horse chestnut by the bottom road gate, grown from a conker by my father as a small boy, cast a delicate framework of shadows across the road. It was a lovely, clear winter's night - there would be a serious frost by morning. (p.56)

Its significant that even the local women don't have a lot of confidence in her. Her mother (albeit short of all the facts) thinks Jenny should take Dave back; her sister thinks they should sell and other farming wives try to score points from her misfortune.

Her husband, of course, appears to get away with it. As does the first manager Jenny hires, who is negligent beyond imagination and does a runner.

But in rural farming towns, the ancient custom of manners prevails and under the surface lurk the community's true feelings for those who cross them in business. Or worse, embarrass them. 

Jenny finds a surprising ally in business, and her father, previously retired, sees her as a competent equal in the battle to save the farm:

"Don't worry about the farm, we'll figure something out."

...He sent me a long, level look over the rim of his Dora mug. 

" if your life will be blighted without that waste of space (Dave), you stay with him by all means. But if you're thinking of letting him come crawling back just so you can pay the damn farm lease, then you need to get a grip."

I reached out blindly with my spare hand and took his, and he smiled.

"Good grip," he said. (p.15)

I like Jenny's character. She's real. She has an unmanageable washing pile yet spends a lot of time in the garden. And she has a degree in Mechanical Engineering.

There are also some very unlikeable and privileged characters in this community (besides Jen's ex-partner) - a wee bit like an Agatha Christie village. The other adulterer, for example. And that awful woman at school...

Can Jenny go it alone?

This is a great story with some real Kiwi people and settings.

Author of The Pretty Delicious Cafe, Danielle Hawkins writes with humour and a good knowledge of rural life. She took me back to where I grew up, literally.  (I'm from Feilding!).

I'm loving authors with Kiwi settings right now. 

Further reading

Books with great Kiwi settings: