In 1951, a shy and solitary 14-year-old boy was sent by his parents to spend the summer with ‘the aunts in Flanders’. So began for Michael Jenkins a formative experience which, when he came to write about it half a century later, reappeared to him ‘as in a dream, complete but surreal’.
A House in Flanders, his account of those summer months spent on the edge of the Flanders Plain, does indeed have a hypnotic and dreamlike quality. The dignified old French country house with its unvarying routines; the extended family of elderly aunts, uncles and grown-up cousins (with one of whom he fell boyishly in love); the summer warmth and wide Flemish skies were like an awakening to a young boy whose home in England was a ‘cold and empty place’ and whose parents, he felt, ‘preferred frigid intellectual exchanges to the more complicated and demanding world of personal relationships’.
Yet all was not as golden as at first seemed. The German occupation had left its mark, and in 1951 memories of it were still raw and painful. Gradually, through his vivid portraits of the various members – in particular of the firm but kindly matriarch Tante Yvonne – Michael Jenkins teases out the history of the family and of the surrounding area and, finally, uncovers the secret at the heart of the book – the reason he has been sent there.
One Golden Summer
There are some books, not necessarily the longest, in which the author’s intention is so perfectly realized, a seminal experience of life so beautifully recorded that the book becomes a small icon...Read more
‘You are a beacon of civilisation . . .’
'I just wanted to include a quick note with my subscription renewal to say how highly I regard the publication. For me you are a beacon of civilisation in a world increasingly hostile to the book...Read more
‘Marvellous stuff . . .’
‘While I am not purchasing today, I must say that I have thoroughly enjoyed books I bought from you. They include A House in Flanders, and Marrying Out. Marvellous stuff. Thank you, from a fan in...Read more
‘I have just finished A House in Flanders by Michael Jenkins . . . ’
‘I have just finished A House in Flanders by Michael Jenkins. I bought it from you a couple of weeks ago and have cherished every single page from the start. It is a charming, evocative and...Read more
‘A House in Flanders is the most completely delightful book and a perfect little escape from a turbulent world that needs alot of fixing. I have enjoyed all the Slightly Foxed memoirs I’ve read so far but this one really stands out as one of the loveliest. When Michael was 14 his English boarding school was closed due to an epidemic (same, Michael, same) in the 1950s and his parents sent him to live with Tante Yvonne and a house full of other tantes et oncles in the very northern-most part of France. The house was a three storey chateau on a working farm, with lots of tenant farmers and a role for everyone in the family. Tante Yvonne was the firm but loving matriarch, Tante Florence supervised the cook in the kitchen, Tante Alice organised fruit picking, Tante Thérèse worked in the flower beds, Tante Lise attended Tante Yvonne, and Oncle Auguste went for a big walk every day keeping an eye on things. Michael proceeds to spend the most idyllic summer at the house, in company with a black labrador named Mardi, being confided in by every occupant and slowly learning the history of the family and his own mysterious connection to it. The halcyon state of the household belies the terrible past when the Germans had forcibly occupied the house during the war, evicting the siblings and installing German soldiers in all the rooms, leaving some ragged memories and terrible mental scars. Michael gradually learns all the secrets and becomes an integral part of the family and his account of a perfect summer is a beautifully written love letter to a cast of fascinating characters.’
I just wanted to thank you for publishing ‘A House in Flanders’. I have had it a while, but started reading it on the Eurostar to Paris this week and soon finished it. I absolutely loved it! I hope you issue it as one of your high quality paperbacks and it goes on it sell millions! Haven’t enjoyed a book like that for ages – fantastic!
There are some books, not necessarily the longest, in which the author’s intention is so perfectly realized, a seminal experience of life so beautifully recorded that the book becomes a small icon to be treasured not only on the shelf of a personal library, but in the mind. A House in Flanders by Michael Jenkins is such a book.