In a remote mountain village in northern Portugal, a blue-shattered house in a garden of lemon trees overlooks the village, the valley, the winding river. Here, hundreds of miles from their London homes, two English families have come for a summer holiday.
They do not know each other well, these families, although Claire, in university days, once thought she knew shy, self-contained Frances as well as anyone. By chance they have bumped into each other again; on impulse she invites Frances, her husband Oliver and Tom, their six-year-old son, to join her own family in Portugal. Claire and Robert have been here before: they share happy memories with their own children, Jessica and Jack.
It soon becomes clear that this year is going to be different. Tom is restless and difficult. Sometimes demanding, sometimes withdrawn, he seems, disturbingly, not quite to belong to either of his parents. Oliver is distant, exasperated. As for Frances – Claire discovers that she had not known her at all at university, that she has an inner life kept secret, until now, from everyone.
Shocked and disconcerted, Claire is gradually caught up in an atmosphere of rising tension and distress. Affectionate Jack becomes resentful and cruel; steady, generous Robert is unsettled, hurt by his daughter’s withdrawal. Meanwhile Jessica, on the threshold of adolescence, finds herself falling in love.
As always, when adults are in turmoil it is the children who suffer. In the intense heat and beauty of this place events move inexorably towards tragedy, and no one sees who is to be the real victim.
Sue Gee’s haunting and beautifully crafted third novel, The Last Guests of the Season, offers the hope of redemption. It is also, most powerfully, an indictment of a darker side of love.