Lovely, lyrical and ravishing in its portrayal of a lost rural England in the mid-nineteenth century, this novel by Judith Allnatt is a wonderful one to read over the Christmas break. The countryside is a central character in this story, as seen through the eyes of John Clare’s wife in all her poverty and rustic simplicity, yet she has a deep empathy that resonates with the beauty of the poet’s verse, and above all with an extraordinarily steadfast and self-sacrificing love. We’ve become so accustomed to expecting feisty independence of our heroines that it comes as a welcome surprise to appreciate the quiet virtues of selflessness. In Patty we see a woman caught in a heartbreaking dilemma: to remain loyal and caring of a husband whose mental illness makes him deny her, or abandon him and put her own interests first. The novel speaks of the power and tragedy of enduring love. It’s a sober reminder that artistic genius comes at a price, and often the price is paid by others not only by the artist. This book is exquisite; acutely sensitive; brilliantly observed.