Idle Hour in the County of Hope by Julie Simpson, Australia, 2000

If I had fallen over this book in a book shop or elsewhere, I would most probably have passed it by. The title, together with the somewhat depressing pink and brown cover image, does not grab one's attention, nor does it imply an interesting read; however, as it was the book club's book of the month, I had no choice but to read it. I am happy to say that I was pleasantly surprised.

I had expected a fairly mundane collection of short stories, but these stories are well thought through and delightfully crafted. Even though Idle Hour in the County of Hope is not a literary masterpiece, the writing is nuanced and manages to bring to life contrasting characters and divergent situations. I like the way the stories are all connected, being about the residents of the town of Idle Hour. That said, the author does not stress the connection; it is simply something that is there in the background, on many different levels. 

The stories display tragedy and humour in many different forms; sometimes the line between these two is flimsy, just as it often is in life. Not only is it evident that Julie Simpson must have experienced a town (or towns) similar to Idle Hour, but it is also very noticeable that she has particularly good observation skills for both people and places. It is a pleasant little book to pick up in between more challenging books; as Anne Deveson writes on the front cover, this is definitely a book that '... leads us to magic places.'