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It's 1985 and three 18-year-old British women meet at Heathrow airport whilst waiting to get on with their gap year travels around Asia. The young women bond immediately and pledge to stay in contact when they return from their travels. Life soon gets in the way, and the girls never fulfil their promise until 15 years later when fate brings them back together again.
Clio is a successful GP married to a surgeon who puts his life and career before hers leaving her feeling frustrated and unloved, Jocasta is a journalist, forever seeking the next story and wishing her boyfriend would hurry up and prove his commitment to her, and Martha is an extremely successful solicitor with ambitious plans to make it in politics and has little time for a personal life.
But who gave birth and abandoned what the media dubbed "Baby Bianca" at the airport in 1986? The baby in question is all grown up and is set to find out whom her mother is. The past is about to come back and haunt them...
This was another of my readitswapit books; I had added a couple of my dads books on my reading list and they weren't shifting until someone requested a copy - it seemed worth getting rid of an old book for an author I wouldn't usually read, and it turns out it was quite a good swap!
I'd probably class this book under the glamorous women's reading rather than it being of the "chick lit" genre, as the women in the book are like the main protagonists that I've read about in books from the likes of Tilly and Louse Bagshawe: glamorous, successful and determined. Instead of the usual fluff that comes with reading the so-called "chick lit" genre, these women are powerful and usually have cash to burn; they often don't have love matters at the heart of the story and the story sometimes focuses more about blind ambition and career as much or more than their love and sex lives. This book fits that category but with slightly older main characters. Aside from the first two chapters where we are introduced to the 18-year-old girls and how they met, most of the story is told in the present day when the women are around 33-35 years old. I do much prefer these types of books this way, and this book was a perfect match for me, providing an interesting story that didn't centre on a witless girl who is desperately looking for love.
The most interesting aspect of this story was the storyline of "Baby Bianca". Vincenzi cleverly describes the birth of the baby and portrays the mothers point of view without ever giving away the identity of the mother - however, we are left in no doubt that it is one of the women who met to travel on that day in 1985, a year before Baby Biancas birth. Throughout the book, this thread continues and once again Vincenzi skilfully leads the reader to believe it is one woman before switching her clues to one of the other women that we read about. Throughout three quarters of this book, it's a mystery who the identity of the mother is and I really enjoyed trying to guess who it might be! I had a feeling, however, that although she had done a successful job of masking the mother for most of the book before revealing which one it was in the second half, I think I as a reader was supposed to be shocked as to who the father was, although I thought that was pretty obvious from the word go!
The story is told from each of the women's point of view, and as I've mentioned heavy clues are dropped throughout the first half of the book leading the reader to suspect that each woman might be the mother who abandoned the child. As well as this, Vincenzi has created an interesting life around each character; each has their own issues to contend with in the modern world. Admittedly, for Clio and Jocasta, it appears that the taint of chick lit has reared its ugly headed and tainted this novel by showing that their particular problems stem from their love lives, but they both portray strong characteristics and there is none of the usual storylines where the woman makes a mistake only to find that they had it wrong all along - these women are smart and sassy and extremely likeable.
As for Martha, I didn't enjoy this character as much as Clio and Jocasta. Martha is portrayed as a work-obsessed cold fish of a woman who doesn't have time to have any friends or family, and obviously these aren't the most likeable of traits in any leading character. I did warm to her when she meets her boyfriend and I thought Vincenzi did an excellent job of showing how her heart had thawed although I still found it hard to engage with her as much as the other two. The other problem I had with Martha's story in the book was that at times I found the political talk particularly dull. Quite often I just wasn't interested enough to read about the politics and back stabbing and I began to get confused between all the politicians that kept cropping up in her section in the book. I did start to skim read her political sections and after finishing the book I can safely say that I didn't lose any of the story by doing so! It is a pretty hefty book at 640 pages and could have really done with some very brutal editing!
Generally speaking, I felt that Martha's character, as well as not having the likeability factor, also didn't have the edge and spark that the other two characters in the book had - she is cold and distant when the threesome eventually reunite and despite Martha making amends with them later on in the book I was still not entirely convinced by the character development of her which was a bit of a let down.
Similarly, I was disappointed in how Vincenzi developed Jocasta's character to the latter half of the book. It was enjoyable reading about Jocasta in the beginning; she is beautiful, determined, smart and successful, but due to (isn't it always the case in these things?) a love interest, suddenly her character does a complete about-face and turns in to a woman who just adores being a housewife and spending money on clothes and doesn't care about her job. Even for a short while when Jocasta does this, it just didn't ring true and I felt that Vincenzi had turned her without any warning in to a completely different character.
On the whole I enjoyed this book - I always find sheer indulgence in reading about these fictional gorgeous successful women and it certainly makes a change from fluffy no-brain 'chick-lit' and their often-dumb witted protagonists. A lot less sex than the usual "glam" writing from the likes of the Bagshawe sisters but with lots of wit, a great storyline that keeps you guessing for most of the book and interesting and likeable characters.
I was given this book as a birthday present and had not read a Penny Vincenzi book before, so I wasn't sure what to expect before I began reading it. I am an avid reader of chick-lit books, which this was clearly not so it is a bit of a departure from my usual reading material. The book is a pretty thick paperbook, which some people may find a bit off-putting when they first pick it up.
The book follows the lives of three women: Martha, Cleo and Jocasta. They first met while travelling in 1985, but all three women now lead very different lives. Martha is an ambitious and highly successful lawyer; Clio is a doctor trapped in an unhappy marriage, and Jocasta is a newspaper reporter whose lover won't commit. One year after they first met, one of them secretly gave birth to a baby girl (Kate) at Heathrow Airport and left her in the toilets. Fast forward to 2000, and Kate is desperate to find out more about her birth mother. Which of the women is really her mother, and what will happen if the secret is revealed?
Although this was a thick book and took several weeks for me to get to the end of, it was a gripping read. There are plenty of red herrings thrown into the story that leave you thinking that you have figured out the secret and the outcome, only for you to be thrown several pages later when the next clue reveals that you were actually wrong in your suspicions. The book's outcome is left quite up in the air until the last few pages, which maintains your interest and curiousity. At times, it is sad and emotional.
Having read this book, I am hugely impressed at how well Penny Vincenzi's writing style kept me riveted right to the end. I have made a mental note to seek out more of her books as I really enjoyed this book.
First published in 2005 by Headling Book Publishing.
ISBN: 0 7553 2083 2
~~Penny Vincenzi, Sheer Abandon~~
At first glance looks too thick a book to plough through!But trust me its worth the effort.
The story is set around three glamorous women, friends who met at the beginning of their travels as students in 1985;
Martha: a single woman, far too career minded to bother with men at the moment! A highly paid lawyer.
Clio: Unhappily married to a surgeon, a very clever character also a doctor.
Jocasta: In love with a man who won't commit, looking for another!The wild one of the bunch, unpredictable. She is a newspaper reporter.
Parts of the prologue I think help to explain the beginning, quoted from the book:
Prologue, August, 1986: "She couldn't have a baby on an aeroplane...Ignore the pain. Not nearly bad enough anyway. Probably indigestion"
"Well-she hadn't had it on the plane"
"and when it was all over...she had become a mother...she could just forget the whole thing. Completely"
We then start the story in 1985, the year the girls go travelling which is where we get the background info on the characters and learn about their personalities.
They meet in the airport departure lounge waiting for their plane and get chatting, three students with their backpacks off on their travels. Nervous and excited.
The book is then divided into three parts; as the major events happen.
One of these three women; Clio, Martha or Jocasta have kept a terrible secret for all they years since they went travelling, one of these three characters abandoned their new born baby in Heathrow airport in 1986.
As the story goes on, you may try to guess but there are no clues, none seem capable of such an act.
Who is concealing this guilty secret?
This book is in three words- spellbinding, gripping, moreish!
I had never read a book by Penny Vincenzi before so was apprehensive as I do like to stick to my 'usual' authors, If I remember rightly this book was on sale at WhSmith for half price and this prompted me to give it a go!
She is a genius, this book is one of the most well-written I have read. She manages to make the characters come alive.
Vincenzi has clearly researched the topic deeply before writing as she mentions in the Acknowledgements and this really shows.
She has researched every part from working in Law to the topic of abandonment so her writing is spot on.
She deals so sensitively with such a difficult topic which is no mean feat.
I love the element of surprise, the fact we do not know which of these three glamorous characters is hiding this sad secret.
I like figuring it out as I read along, almost like a detective solving a mystery.
All in all, I love this book.
I will definitely be picking up some more by this author as she has astounded me with her skill. her other titles (see below) look just as thrilling and enticing, I only hope they are as good as this masterpiece.
~More by Penny Vincenzi~
An Outrageous Affair
Almost a crime
The Glimpses (Short stories)