The delightfully unconventional Sue Bowl returns for more daydreaming and youthful disasters in Sara Crowe’s Martini Henry, the charming sequel to 2014’s Campari for Breakfast. And if there’s anything this second novel teaches us, it’s that Sue still has a lot to learn about life and, more specifically, love.
At the end of Campari, Sue had earned a prestigious place on a creative writing course, she’d bagged her first boyfriend – the sweet and sensitive Joe – and she was finally in a good place emotionally, having spent much of the book grieving the loss of her mother and trying to figure out her place in the world. Now a couple of years older at eighteen, she’s flexing her authoress muscles on the writing course in sunny Crete, surrounded by inspiring artsy types and professors. That is until a family emergency brings her home early, meaning Sue has to finish up her dissertation in England.
Sue instantly slides back into daily life with her quirky Aunt Coral and the other eccentric residents of Green Place, the crumbling ancestral mansion that helped mend Sue’s heart in the first book. Still chasing after her dream of being a bookish superstar, Sue embarks on a quest to gain an internship at the local Echo and write the next bestseller, if only she can become ‘more Russian’. Enter literary wunderkind Quiz, complete with modish girlfriend Di, who turns up at Green Place looking for a room to rent, having met Sue in Greece.
Quiz is instantly charmed not so much by Sue herself but by what she represents, an ingénue with a sizeable legacy to inherit in the shape of the historic and substantial house. Sue is equally enthralled by her sophisticated new friends as she adopts their pretentious language, takes Quiz’s literary advice as gospel, and styles her hair to copy Di’s ultra chic ‘film school’ cut. The only one who can see through the discussions about ‘amour propre’ and the constant utterings of ‘plus tard’ is down to earth Joe, but Sue is too beguiled to care.Utilising and expanding on the diary format of the previous book, Martini Henry goes beyond Sue’s fantasist viewpoint to tell the story of a boy called London Taylor, whose past is linked to Green Place. Having discovered a historical tome in Crete called ‘For the Concern of the Rich and the Poor’, Sue brings the book back to England and pores over the rags to riches tale, which correlates to a timely excavation going on in the mansion’s grounds. It’s here that Sue learns more about the estate and its previous tenants, something she’d only been able to guess at before.
Whilst Campari for Breakfast was a heart-warming and refreshing read, Martini Henry holds a different kind of charm, like coming home to old friends and familiar surroundings. Aunt C, the Admiral and Joe are such decent people that reading about them always conjures up a smile. Likewise Sue, with her dotty inner monologue, is a character the reader can always root for, even when she’s making terrible decisions, which she does…A LOT.
Surprisingly, the section of the book I liked least at the beginning, became my favourite part in the end. London Taylor’s tale in many ways mirrors Sue’s own journey of self-discovery. Both found love, acceptance and a home at Green Place. They both found a family. And that’s what Martini Henry is all about; it’s about finding yourself in a world that isn’t always easy to navigate, and finding the people in life that will love you for you, weird quirks and all. Now, where can I find my very own Green Place?