I’ve been reading this book for two days straight. Firstly because I had a fall a few nights ago so I’ve been recuperating from being very sore and bruised. Secondly, once the story started to unfold I found it hard to move away from. The concept of forgiveness is one that has always fascinated me and confused me in equal measure. As a child brought up in a religious household it was a requirement of Christianity, rather than a choice I could think about and there was no discussion about the understandable negative feelings surrounding it – anger, bitterness, hurt – because those were wrong too. As an adult I’ve had to talk myself out of this blanket approach to forgiveness and give myself permission not to forgive. I’ve also had to think about when holding onto that anger and bitterness might be more harmful to me than the other person – ‘holding onto anger is like holding a fiery coal’. I also had to learn that just because I forgive an action, doesn’t mean I have to keep that person in my life. Forgiveness does not always mean everything neatly slots back to the way it did before. This is something the characters in this book come to learn and it is Marcy who ends up with the most to forgive.
After her abusive husband is arrested and held on remand for dodgy business dealings, Rebecca decides to take her daughter, and her mother Marcy, and relocate somewhere totally new, leaving no trace. She goes as far as to change her name to Claudia and her daughter’s to Jasmine, dropping their Huxley-Browne surname. Marcus Huxley-Browne was a controlling bully, who had slowly sucked all of the confidence and joy out of Claudia over several years. He met her when she was a vulnerable widow and his kindness led her to trust him. Then once they were married all that sensitivity and care seemed to melt away. Then slowly he took a chisel to every part of her personality and chipped away until she started to doubt who she was. With a lot of help from Marcy, they take the opportunity of Marcus being remanded in prison to flee to the coast. There, in a flat by the sea, the three of them feel able to breathe again. Away from the constant criticism, Claudia finds she can make friends easily and even starts working again as an interior designer. She sees an incredible coach house for sale that would make a wonderful forever home for the family and she sets to work. The world seems to finally be opening up for Claudia and her family. However, will Marcus ever truly let go of them?
A terrible event does occur in the book that no one could have foreseen. It’s here where the theme of forgiveness, as a possible part of the restorative justice process, comes into the story and I found this part really interesting. Restorative justice is about victims and offenders communicating within a safe and mediated environment to talk about the harm that has been caused and finding a way to repair that harm. It gives the victim the chance to talk about the impact the crime has had on them directly to the offender. It gives the offender the chance to relate the crime they committed to an actual person and see how the victim has been affected. It also holds them accountable for their actions in a way that doesn’t always happen in the normal court process. Government research demonstrates that restorative justice provides an 85% victim satisfaction rate, and a 14% reduction in the frequency of reoffending. Here the author gives us both sides of the process by showing us in stark detail the effect of the crime on the victim, but also the background of the offender. Here and there through the narrative we read letters from the offender – how the restorative process begins- that detail his home life, the brutal hold of a family member on him and his mother, and a life of crime forced upon him from a young age. We know that this person is really the bottom of a long chain, a criminal subcontractor hired by someone powerful to do his dirty work. Essentially he is expendable, simply there to carry the can. Although in this case, the crime is much worse than was planned or expected.
This was a really engaging read. I quickly became invested in the family’s story and found myself very worried that their past would catch up with them, especially since a couple of their new friends started to work out who they really were. When there is a confrontation I found myself holding my breath, wondering what retribution would follow. I loved Marcy’s new romance with Henry and the fearless way she throws herself into the relationship. She was by far my favourite character and her story the most moving. I was imagining this funky, ballsy grandmother as Helen Mirren. It was a bit of a shock to hear one character to describe her as like Emma Thompson – I can’t imagine a world where Emma Thompson is old enough to have a 17 year old granddaughter! However, in terms of Marcy’s intelligence, beauty and grace it really made sense. Next to her, Claudia seems a lot quieter, cautious and sometimes invisible – something that’s not surprising given the experience she’s gone through with Marcus. It’s wonderful to see her come to life which tends to happen when she’s working on a project, especially The Coach House which is an incredible labour of love. I always feel on safe ground with Lewis. I know I’ll get a good read and I love that a lot of her heroines are women in middle life, dealing with their own problems, while supporting teenagers and parents who often need help. Far from being uninteresting and invisible, it’s women in mid-life who are often holding everything together while trying to hold down a job as well. But we’re also resilient, brave and ran out of damns to give a long time ago. I like that Lewis writes this mid-life characters and gives them strong, complex storylines like this one to get our teeth into.
Meet The Author
Susan Lewis has over thirty books to her name. She grew up in a council house on the edge of Bristol and was sent to boarding school after her mother died when she was 9. She has lived all over the world and started writing when she was advised by a boss at Thames Television to ‘go away and write something’. After time in the South of France and Hollywood she now lives in a barn in the Cotswolds with her husband and two dogs Coco and Lulabelle. Her website can be found at:
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