Webster’s fourth book is an account of his new life in rural Spain with his partner Salud Botella – her name means ‘Cheers, Bottle!’ – after the couple move from Valencia to a crumbling, remote farmhouse. With no experience of working the land, but with a yearning for an earthy lifestyle – ‘I wanted a life that hit me in the face every morning and told me I was alive’ – they set out to establish a new life, armed only with a 12th-century book on agriculture.
The book’s a gimmick, sure, but it’s a good one. Starting in September, the story unfolds month by month, each chapter opening with a local legend. Webster learns the local customs of harvesting olives, beekeeping and nurturing truffles, as well as dealing with wild boar, gale-force winds, local hunters and forest fires.
Sounds familiar enough. But as the book progresses, the tone changes and the legends become more relevant, reflecting the author’s personal growth. Webster muses, often wittily, on everything from the medicinal properties of plants, to ghosts, to whether to tell his girlfriend about the praying mantis perched in the house – but his thoughts become more poignant. He touches on topics such as the Civil War and Moorish Spain, struggling to get to the heart of his adopted home and its inhabitants.
Despite sometimes clumsy changes of tense, this is an insightful and honest read, with fine descriptions of the characters and experiences that have become part of Webster’s new, sometimes difficult but ultimately rewarding life.