Libby Page was one of those authors that completely passed me by until I started book blogging and this is the first of her novels that I’ve reviewed. I don’t know why I hadn’t picked up one of her books before, because reading this gave me the same feel as an Adriana Trigiani or Marian Keyes novel. There were strong female characters, female friendships, achieving ambitions and fulfilling long held dreams. There are deep emotional aspects bringing flavour and depth to her story, but also enough icing and sprinkles to lift the spirits. Here the sprinkles were one of my favourite things, vintage clothing. Our heroine is Lou, who moved to a small market town to care for her mother who was terminally ill. Since her death Lou has been working hard, selling the family home and buying a shop with flat above in the town centre. With builder Pete upstairs creating her living space, Lou has opened the shop and is looking at ways to save money and boost business. Pete puts her in touch with Maggie, another lady who has gone through a big change. Maggie’s a grandmother and often provides care for her grandchildren in the house that was the family home. However, her husband has recently left Maggie for a younger woman and she is rattling round in the big house. So, when Pete suggests that she rents a room to Lou until her flat is ready it turns out to be a lifeline for both of them. Finally, we have Donna, who works at her family’s hotel in the US. In a daily uniform of jeans and hotel sweatshirt, Donna follows a routine where she does the paperwork and the books and checks in on her elderly parents, but she too has a shock in store. When her mother suffers a sudden mini-stroke, her conscience causes her to disclose a family secret – they are not Donna’s birth parents, her mother was a woman from a small market town in England.
The thing that links these disparate women is a vintage dress. 1950’s in style and a stunning buttercup yellow this dress has a full circle skirt just made for dancing. Embroidered with meadow flowers, the dress hangs above the counter in Lou’s vintage shop and is the only item that isn’t for sale. It’s flanked by a picture of her mother Dorothy, the owner of the beautiful dress. I love vintage clothes and this dress, plus the descriptions of her shop really did draw me in. I love colour and just reading Lou’s outfits and her transformation of Maggie’s wardrobe made me smile and inspired me to be more colourful again. The warm feeling I got from Maggie and her beautiful home helped as well and within a couple of chapters I had completely relaxed into their world. Each woman had her own chapters throughout so we could see things through their viewpoint. While I felt an immediate kinship with Lou and Maggie, Donna seemed less accessible. She was very intent on routine and was considered abrupt or even rude by some people. I wondered if she was neuro divergent and suffering from anxiety, so her routines and uniform might have come from an inability to change or decide when under pressure. All these women face change and have to start life anew. In between their narratives are very short chapters from the past, where a young woman is making a yellow embroidered dress for a secret assignation with a man she’s fallen in love with.
I really enjoyed the journey to understanding the owner of the stunning dress and how it ended up at Lou’s shop. There is a revelation for all concerned when Donna gets on a plane and travels to England and to Lou’s shop. A series of letters between sisters add an extra clue to the mystery. Aside from this main story there are other subplots that also caught my imagination. I loved Maggie and her journey of rediscovery is a joyous one. When Lou arrives it’s clear Maggie is trained by years of looking after someone else: her husband, her children, guests. She’s not putting any love into herself and this shows in her completely black wardrobe. A little bit of input from Lou and she’s wearing orange with combinations of colours she didn’t expect. This small change and their growing friendship means that Maggie is busy for the first time in a long time. Her children can’t rely on her for free child care because she’s not home and this is just the start of Maggie accepting her divorce and creating a new life for who she is now. That’s partly a case of reconciling with her past and a summer in 1960’s London where she was the sort of girl who wore yellow Mary Quant boots and fell in love with an artist. There is romance here, but it’s not the only story. This story is about women supporting and inspiring each other and being our best selves. I liked that there was a lot of emphasis on self- care, from the colourful vintage clothes to taking control and finding our passion in life, instead of being the care givers we’re often expected to be. I came away from this story glad that society’s moral standards have changed and that for many women their lives are no longer ruined by shame or fear of what the neighbours might think. I felt like I’d been given a warm hug and I came away from the story smiling and inspired to wear some of my more colourful clothing.
Published on 16th Feb 2023 by Orion.
Libby Page graduated from The London College of Fashion with a BA in fashion journalism before going on to work as a journalist at The Guardian. After writing, her second passion is outdoor swimming. Libby lives in London, where she enjoys finding new swimming spots and pockets of community within the city. The Lido is her first novel. Follow her on Twitter @LibbyPageWrites and Instagram @TheSwimmingSisters