Cheap Day Return by R.F. Delderfield
When Kent Stuart returns to Redcliffe Bay after thirty years, he finds that it's barely recognizable. The atmosphere is filled with exhaust fumes from all the holiday traffic. The streets are crowded and the High Street shops which 'once looked like illustrations from a book of fairy tales' have been replaced by glass and chrome chain stores. However, when he sees the bronze statue of the lifeboat man on The Stump, the heart of the town, he remembers the day that he first met the two most important women in his life, Esta Wallace and Lorna Mornay-Sutcliffe thirty years ago...
He was an ambitious young photographer then, anxious to get out of the small, provincial West Country town, filled with dull, parochial people. When he meets Esta he recognises a 'kindred spirit'. She is a salt-of-the-earth type, a hardworking nurse who also wants to get away, although she does come from a warm and loving family, unlike him. Unfortunately, he quickly falls for Lorna, the opposite of Esta. Older, beautiful, mysterious, she is far more interesting than Esta, and their affair becomes obsessive. (I have to say that Delderfield writes about their sexual relationship in the very vaguest terms, but the reader still knows exactly what's going on). If only today's writers could do that!
Some reviewers have complained that this book is old-fashioned and even misogynist, but I don't see it that way. Both Esta and Lorna are complicated characters, and neither is completely good or bad. However, Delderfield's treatment of Lorna's problems can be seen as pop psychology, but it's a moving, and even a quite haunting story, although a bit sordid in parts. I especially loved the ending.
Delderfield wrote this early in his career, so it can't compete with his wonderful sagas, but it is still beautifully written. As you can probably tell, he is one of my favourite writers!