Book review: Ferney by James Long

Ferney byJames Long
Ferney byJames Long

Nearly 20 years ago, former BBC correspondent James Long took the reading world by storm with a remarkable timeslip novel that spanned centuries of English history.

Featuring a love affair of such enthralling beauty that it became a worldwide hit, Ferney captured thousands of hearts and bewitched critics with its mesmerising mix of mystery, romance, culture, real history and seductive fantasy.

It was an ambitious novel that, by the author’s own admission, was 20 years in the making so, for a new generation of readers or for those who missed this extraordinary reading odyssey first time around, here is your chance to enjoy a wonderful, time-travelling masterpiece.

Steep yourself in English folklore and the timeless concept of reincarnation and be swept away by a passionate love story that defies the boundaries of time and age as Long blends past and present in unforgettable harmony.Since Gally Martin suffered a devastating miscarriage, her lecturer husband Mike has given free rein to her desire to leave London and buy a country cottage. To Mike, Gally is ‘a poem with a missing line, a symphony with a discordant phrase.’Ever since they met, Mike has had to get used to Gally’s claustrophobia and terrible nightmares, and the ‘creeping absences’ which invade her life for days at a time. New places never seem to give his restless wife what she seeks until they discover Bagstone Farm, a dilapidated old cottage in the historic village of Penselwood in Somerset.

The house seems to instantly connect with Gally, and give her the peace and comfort she has yearned for, but her relationship with Mike comes under strain when she forms an increasingly close attachment to 83-year-old countryman, Ferney.

The sprightly old man seems to know everything about Gally, their strange, almost ethereal, friendship ‘stitched up’ with half-sentences and oblique words which leave Mike nothing more than a baffled observer.

So what is it that draws them together? Reluctantly at first, then with more urgency as he feels time slipping away, Ferney forces Gally to understand the meaning of her nightmares, to make centuries-old connections and to face an unfathomable truth about their shared past.

Long’s imaginative and seductive manipulation of time – all inextricably bound up with the history of people and their landscape – explores the power of shared memories and the fascinating concept of reincarnation.

The chemistry that flares between the octogenarian Ferney and the young, haunted Gally is increasingly linked to seemingly insoluble ties formed between two soulmates over centuries of history, whether that past is good, bad or tragic.

Long’s exquisitely detailed descriptions of the countryside, its archaeological mysteries and its folklore, add a special kind of piquancy and resonance to this emotion-packed and provocative tale which is as gripping as it is enchanting.

And the good news for fans old and new is that the sequel, The Lives She Left Behind, is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in May.

(Simon & Schuster, paperback, £7.99)