Compared with the relative famine at the start of the pandemic, I have enjoyed a feast of fiction this year. My latest pile of books – two bought and two borrowed – have seen me travelling around Ireland, with a brief sojourn in Brighton.
Marian Keyes can be relied upon for a good family saga that will take one’s mind off the restrictions imposed by the current pandemic. Grown Ups contains the right interesting ingredients for this: two brothers and their families, lots of money (and not so much), social manipulation, individual desires – and secrets. There are other aspects such as the desire to lose weight: “But Cara was afraid of wine – not just the calories but how it weakened her resolve.” This makes her easy to identify with, but what about the murder-mystery weekend? The various events lead to the realisation that we all need to take charge of, and lead, our own lives. This is a fun way of finding out why.
I have not come across Faith Hogan before, but was intrigued enough by the cover of What happened to us? to purchase this Irish story. The by-line “Sometimes the end is only the beginning…” draws one quickly to the travails of a couple dedicated to running their restaurant. One cannot help sympathising with Carrie when her partner is bowled over by their new waitress from Brazil and leaves her. Predictable? Not really, for in her determination to salvage what she can, Carrie finds herself helping others and a delicious sense of community develops – shocking us again with the intrigue wrought by the Brazilian interlopers. There are opportunities to smile, such as when Carrie’s former partner complains “How in God’s name can you spend a thousand euros on a pair of shoes?” when the level of his girlfriend’s spending reaches a peak. Rituals, such as Christmas, have to change as the dynamics between the characters shift. This is a quick, light, yet satisfying read.
Not as light is The Brighton Mermaid by Dorothy Koomson, another new author for me. The narrative begins in 1993 when two teenagers find the body of an unidentified young woman on the beach and continues through the next twenty-five years. It is the determination of one of the teenagers to discover the identity of the woman that leads us into more family secrets, intrigue, and the changes in relationships that follow until the rather fast-paced and thrilling end. I will be looking out for other novels by this author, who knows how to bring loose threads together without leaving her readers wanting.
Talk about being left wanting: I raced through The Missing Sister by Lucinda Riley, having followed the saga of the seven sisters from the beginning. Some novels in this series have been more authentic than others; all have alluded to a mystery relating to Pa Salt that readers ‘know’ must be revealed at the end. It isn’t, and with the death of the author in June, I wonder if it will be. This is nonetheless a quick and interesting read that moves quickly from New Zealand to Ireland via some quick visits to other places. The identity of the ‘missing sister’ proves to be curious and, perhaps, unexpected; the backstory of Ireland’s turbulent past is intriguing; the healing of relationships is fairly satisfying … yet the novel ends with an array of pressing questions still waiting to be answered.