Champion swimmer, Jenny, once had a best friend and a boyfriend. But she lost both when she moved to Australia to further her swimming career. Now she is taking a career break and is desperate to reconnect with Kath, the friend she could always rely on throughout her childhood and teens, who is now living in France with her husband and child.
But as Jenny spends more time with Kath and her family, she starts to realise that maybe the past didn’t happen quite as she thought. And that the events of the her past are threatening not just her present but her future too…
The twists and turns of the story as Jenny slowly uncovers why her father really decided to move them both to Australia are genuinely gripping, and the ending is fantastic. I would love to tell you why but then I would spoil it for you! It is obvious that the reader has spent an extensive amount of time in France; the market scenes and social gatherings are exceptionally well-described, at times I could practically smell the scented warm breeze on the fraught summer evenings where Jenny starts to see the ‘real’ Kath and find out what exactly happened all those years ago.
This is a definite page-turner!
It’s 1989 and 70-year-old Judith Kratt decides to create an inventory of her household and its valuables; the pie safe, the copper clock, the Tiffany lamp. As she catalogues each item they trigger memories and stories, which she also documents. And secrets.
Switching between her childhood as the eldest daughter of the most powerful white family in a small South Carolina cotton town, and present day where she lives in the family home with her black companion Olva, this novel is in turn a meditation on the significance of heirlooms and memory, and proof of the harm secrets can cause a family down the generations.
Judith’s myopic (willful?) misunderstanding of current white attitudes towards the black residents of the town are damaging not just to Olva but also to Olva’s friend Marcus and his daughter Amaryllis. But worse, they’re dangerous and lead us to realise that Judith may not be the most reliable of narrators. When Judith’s estranged sister, Rosemarie, reappears after more than fifty years, Judith’s attitudes are challenged, family ties questioned and Judith’s secrets exposed.
Even though the novel echoes the slower rhythms of the South, it is still well-paced and at times positively hums with tension. I don’t think I took a breath during the description of the mechanic, Charlie’s, last moments in town.
With echoes of Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, Tartt’s The Little Friend and Stockett’s The Help, this is an exceptionally well-accomplished first novel. I can’t wait to see what Bobotis writes next.
With thanks to NetGalley for enabling me to read this pre-publication.
I read this in hardback when it was first released (as I do all of Maggie O’Farrell’s books) but the recent release of the paperback prompted me to go back and reread it.
And thank goodness I did. Once again I got to marvel at the perfect tone of her stories and her lyricism. What struck me, as I read her stories, is her sense of optimism and above all her will. Her will to survive. Her will to succeed. Her will to carry on carrying on. There is not a single self-pitying sentence in the entire book. Her wit and her wisdom shine through every page, but not in a saintly way – she is matter of fact and tells her tales warts and all.
You would be forgiven for thinking that 17 brushes with death (well 16, those who have read it will understand my caveat) would make O’Farrell maudlin, fearful, or see herself as ‘unlucky’. But, as she tells an ex-boyfriend, she sees herself as lucky.
I read this book in a single sitting the first time, and again this time round. And I suspect I will, the third and fourth time (ad infinitum) that I read this. And you should to.