Susanna is quite a secretive child, who upon hitting her teenage years, becomes increasingly distanced from life at home with her mother, sister and mother's boyfriend.
She becomes obsessed with her real father whom she has never known and determined to track him down, she finally discovers his address and observes him from a distance, unsure how to approach him. Then when a chance meeting in a pub gives Susanna the chance to finally meet her father, instead of announcing herself as his daughter, Susanna conceals her identity and begins an illicit affair that can only end in disaster.
I found this book to be both a haunting and evocative read. Given the subject matter here: a young girl having an affair with a much older man, who happens to be her father, I initially expected this to be a 'heavy' novel, which I would find myself shocked and maybe sickened by. However, such is the brilliance in the writing of this book by Ann Peile, I was surprised to find I did not experience the feelings of revulsion I expected, nor was it heavy going. It is a book which is quite easy to read and one that totally engages the reader from start to finish.
Set in 1970's Chelsea, the free and unconventional atmosphere of the times is brought to life by the author and because of this, it maybe lessens the shock effect of a young girl beginning an affair with her father.
Why exactly Susanna chooses to conceal her true identity from her father is not totally clear. Written in the first person, we read about many of the thoughts and emotions Susanna experiences throughout the book, but the reasons for some of her actions are unclear. The author has cleverly allowed you to realise for yourself why Susanna does this without allowing Susanna to tell you.
Having found where her father lives and observing him from a distance, she then spots him in a pub and they begin a conversation.
It would seem that Susanna has placed the father she has never known upon a pedestal throughout her childhood and fearing rejection by him, she conceals who she really is, as all her dreams would be shattered if he would not allow her into his life as his daughter.
Craving love from her father but fearing rejection as his daughter, Susanna seduces him and thus begins an affair with him. Her father has no idea that she is his daughter and although initially he questions why she would be interested in him, he quickly becomes both intrigued and infatuated by her.
The character of Susanna has been very well developed by Peile. She is highly intelligent and is quite observant of the failings of others. Her family is dysfunctional and I had a lot of sympathy for her at first and found her quite enchanting. However, as the book goes on, I found myself thinking that she was deluding herself, as she gradually cuts herself off from her family and friends and declines a scholarship to study for a degree at Oxford.
All Susanna cares about is her father and becomes totally wrapped up in a world of contentment with him where nothing and nobody else matters.
She is aware that she cannot tell anyone about her relationship, but at the same time manages to justify to herself that what she is doing is right. She has got what she wanted - her father's love. And it doesn't seem to matter that the way she is receiving it is wrong.
My sympathies then changed from Susanna to Jack, her father.
Jack was once quite a womaniser, but those days are long behind him and although he is married, his wife spends her time at their home which is out of London and Jack, because of his work, spends a lot of time in his Chelsea flat, returning home at weekends etc to be with his wife.
Unsure and puzzled at first, he then finds he is considering himself a very lucky man after Susanna enters his life and it is hard not have a small amount of sympathy for him. Even though he is cheating on his wife, he has no idea it is with his daughter.
Repeat It Today With Tears you just know will all end in tears. It has to. However, I was quite surprised by events and did not forsee exactly how this book would end.
At just 186 pages, it isn't a long story and I felt the length was just about right. There is some great description which is both interesting and entertaining about 1970's London, which does lighten the subject matter.
There are one or two characters who are friends and work colleagues of Susanna, who provide some of the funny parts of the book and the way in which Susanna distances herself from these characters as the story goes on, allows the reader to slowly discover that maybe she isn't the person you first think she is.
Overall this is a very cleverly written book. The author has taken a shocking subject matter which many would struggle to write about and delivered a sensitive and intriguing tale that captivated me from the first page.
Anne Peile manages to build up a nagging sense of danger throughout the book, whilst examining our need to be loved and what happens when that need will stop at nothing in order to be fulfilled.
It is a totally compelling read.
Publisher: Serpent's Tail (3 Jun 2010)