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This is Linda Gillard's second book, but the third I've read. I loved her other two books and loved this one too but it's a very different style of book and indeed I feel as if it wasn't written by the same person! This is a multi-layered story of complex and complicated family relationships that will leave you breathless, heartbroken and somewhat disturbed. I found myself thinking about it for days afterwards, and found myself emotionally drained by the end. It's a book I would highly recommend to anyone who loves contemporary fiction as it is so well written and anything but predictable.
The story is mainly told in third person from various points of view, and jumps backwards and forwards in time. There are some sections however in first person from the point of view of Flora. The narrative is not confusing though, as it is clear when each section is set and who is involved, and indeed it helps give the book a layered, complex feel. The book focuses on the family relationships of the Dunbar's across three generation, so having so many different points of view across so many different time periods gives the book a lovely 3D quality, as if we are getting to view the family from every angle.
The story starts from Flora's point of view, which is interesting because she is dead. She is watching her family at her funeral, so we are introduced to the other characters that feature heavily in the story; her elderly mother Dora, twin brother Rory, ex husband Hugh, son Theo, sister-in-law Grace, nephew Colin and niece Charlotte. From the outset it is clear that Flora was estranged from her family at the time of her death and she implies that this was due to an incestuous relationship with Colin, amongst other things.
The story then jumps back in time to Rory and Flora as toddlers, and so the saga begins. This isn't an easy book to review because there are so many twists and turns in the plot that to say too much would spoil the book for other readers. But suffice to say Flora's life does not go according to plan. She spends her childhood in the shadow of the talented musician Rory, enters into a loveless marriage with a man twenty years her senior, and has Theo, her much wanted son that she cannot love. At the same time she is desperately in love with someone else from afar, and spends her lifetime burning for him, knowing they will never be together.
Flora is a highly memorable character, not least for the scrapes she gets herself into. She tries so desperately to be good and live the perfect life but somehow things always go wrong. Her descent into alcoholism is heart breaking, not least when the reason for her addiction becomes apparent. She is hateful and times, loveable at others but the fact that we get to hear from her in first person means we get a real insight into her mind and understand why she is motivated to do certain things. Knowing from the start that she is now dead is hard, because it tells the reader that there will be no happy ending for her.
Her alter-ego is her twin Rory, to whom she has always been close to, but Rory has demons of his own as he too struggles to deal with feelings for someone he can never have. Rory is something of an enigma. A hugely gifted musician, he is arrogant, selfish and self centred but at the same time there is a likeable quality about him. His close, and at times disturbing, relationship with Flora is portrayed wonderfully and I desperately wanted them to find happiness. There is clearly a flaw that runs through this family, making it turn in on itself and it is this flaw that tortures Flora and Rory.
The other characters are equally as real - and as flawed - as Flora and Rory. I loved Flora's husband Hugh; the reason for his impotence, when it is revealed, left me stunned. The author has a knack of weaving everyone's stories together in ways that I could never have imagined, and which take your breath away when they're finally revealed. Dora, as the head of the family, is something of a dark horse, but I did wonder just how much about her family she actually knew but kept to herself.
Rory's wife Grace is viewed with some contempt by Flora, as Flora looks upon Grace as having the life she wishes she had; Grace has a seemingly happy home life, despite Rory's difficult nature. She is in love with her husband and she loves her children whereas Flora can love neither Hugh or Theo.
The events in this story could, to some, be viewed as far fetched but as it is written so well, they are completely believable. It must also be said that some of the subject matter may be offensive to some but again it is written in such a sincere, sympathetic manner that I would imagine most people would see past that. I found that this book challenged my preconceptions and opinions about a lot of situations and allowed me to view them in a very different light. This is by no means a light read but it is compelling and wonderfully written. I highly recommend it.