Among the books I received at Christmas was one with a frosty looking cover that immediately suggested it was a seasonal read. In fact it turned out very different and some might think it morbid, but I do like books that resonate with emotional content so this appealed to me. I also love the novels by Nicci French, which are the husband and wife duo of which Nicci Gerrard is the female of the couple. The Nicci French books are thrillers and often are quite gory, but they all have a sense of damaged people even with the victims as well as the perpetrators of the crimes, so I feel that Nicci is the person who deals with the psychological side of the thrillers.
Ralph, Marnie and Oliver were once childhood friends and part of an ill-fated lover's triangle, with Marnie at the center and her friend Lucy on the outskirts. As time went by they all took different paths in their lives so when Marnie gets a phone call from Oliver that Ralph is dying and wants her by his side for the final stage of his terminal illness that the three meet up again.
Ralph has a remote cottage in Scotland where he's chosen to die and is helped by Oliver who has chosen to stay until the end. There is a nurse who comes in daily and a helpful neigbour, but Ralph needs Marnie as much as she also needs to be there for closure. Leaving her flat in the hands of her stepdaughter she flies to Scotland and faces the past that she has been running from all her life.
Over the final days leading up to Christmas as Ralph slowly succumbs to the cancer invading his body, Oliver and Marnie take him on a journey back into their pasts and the painful but ultimately liberating love that they all shared for each other. But after all this time, can they find peace and will Ralph be able to say some things that were left unsaid? The book tackles this and other issues that we all face when a loved one is near to death.
Not another Book about death?
There are many books about handling death and the concept of the book isn't a new one, so it's up to the reader to decide whether they feel they want to know the story about the friends and how they came to this moment in a lifetime. Personally I find such books are often sad but have a message that is worth reading to find. In this case the main characters have a lot in common with both Ralph and Marnie coming from a disturbed family background that has shaped both their characters. It's not a plot spoiler to say that Ralph is in love with Marnie and she thinks of him as a brother while her feelings for Oliver are much less innocent.
While the friends meet at an early age when they are already struggling with family problems and also the desires of early teenagers to grow up quickly, the bond that forms between them is intense enough to last a lifetime. The author takes on the topics of mental and physical abuse, living up to a dead sibling, the shifting loyalties of family life and sudden death. This unravels slowly as in the over-heated room where Ralph lies dying, Marnie and Oliver tell their own sides of the story and we read Ralph's as he manages to tell some of his, although a lot of this is used as thought, so we have to guess some of it.
This is very much a character-driven book but it's not just about the three who shape the story. There is also Emma, Marnie's mother who kept a guesthouse by the sea and became a surrogate mother to Ralph when his own mother withheld her affection. Then Lucy, Marnie's friend who loves Ralph in vain. Others pass through their lives and leave marks on the characters for good or ill.
Obviously I felt Marnie to be the most interesting character as she is the driving force behind the story. The author pens amazingly real characters that you immediately emphasize with and Marnie is particularly memorable. Strong but emotionally unstable at times, she still manages to be down-to-earth, loveable, and the center of her youthful world.
Ralph is far more complex and you can't help feeling sorry for the tragic man and the equally tragic boy who was small, scruffy, volatile, troubled but ultimately every woman's dream to mother. His voice may be the one that speaks little, but his presence is in everything the friends do together or apart. Even dying he makes a mark on the story that lingers long after reading.
Oliver is Marnie's idea of a soul mate and is a thoroughly nice person who won't betray Ralph even when he reciprocates the love affair. The 'nice boy' with no real issues it's difficult to hate him or feel sorry for, he just is a best friend and a life-long love to both friends. He is the one who shelters Ralph and enables him to die at home. The atmosphere he help's Marnie create in the cold, wintry Scottish retreat is one of almost claustrophobic cosiness without which the whole story would be much more mundane.
The author says in her afterward that she had to take a six-month break at one point and I can see why. Writing about characters with such intensity must be wearing and Nicci Gerrard writes beautifully with great style and subtly. The book is wonderful to read with a good story line and characters that you live with for the time you are reading you almost become them.
Her writing is always excellent, but she surpasses herself with this one. I read it over two days with plenty of snacks at hand and a box of tissues. For a while I was lost in the story and felt almost as isolated as the three in the Scottish winter landscape. I loved the placing of the story in such a bleak but starkly beautiful place.
I felt the warmth inside and the bitter cold outside. It curled its tendrils around my heart and drew out memories of my own that I'd thought forgotten. First loves are painful anyway but when it involves such complex emotions then it tugs at the heartstrings.
I think what made it so special as well was the lack of sentimentality. It's a book that shows you a sad but deeply poignant story and allows you decide whether to celebrate an enduring love or to wallow in tears. Either way it can't fail to move you. I'll leave you with one of Ralph's poems.
Among the long grass, I held you;
By the churned sea, I found you;
In your grey ayes I drowned
But your smile rescues me
And your voice reminds me
That I am saved.
My shining girl,
The face in all my dreams.
Another book I strongly recommend to read for most age groups and both sexes.
Mine was a present and is the penguin paperback version. Published in 2009 and 372 pages long.
Present prices are about £4.50 new and from 1p used at Amazon.com.
Thanks for reading.
I have just finished reading this book by Nicci Gerrard and I am left feeling unsure of how much I enjoyed it! Generally this isn't my usual kind of genre and as I had read some of the books written by Nicci and her husband Sean and really enjoyed them, I guess I was expecting to enjoy this a lot more. I will share my opinions on the book and why I feel this way about it.
Nicci Gerrard is an English author - married to Sean French they have written many books as a pair under the name Nicci French. Nicci studied at Oxford and still writes for the observer I believe, as well as writing under her name and with her husband.
Marnie Still gets a phone call one morning from an old friend to tell her another of their friends, Ralph, is dying - suddenly she finds herself off to remote Scotland to join two of her oldest friends. Even though she has not seen either of them for over 20 years she knows she must go and be with them. However things are not so simple when there is so much history, unanswered questions and time spent apart. Seeing her friends bring back so many memories and when Ralph asks her to talk about them and their shared pasts many memories, happy and sad come flooding back. Will we find out what happened to them all to cause them to be thrown apart for so long?
Marnie is our main character and it is from Marnie's point the story is told. The author has created a very alive person in that we, as the reader, can clearly picture her in our minds and she comes easily to life. When she describes her childhood and her life with her Mother Emma, it is very easy to see it all in our minds eye and in this aspect the author has done a great job. The same can be said for the character of Ralph who is a bit of a live wire in so many ways and yet so down with himself. In love with Marnie he is constantly wanting her affection but, in so many ways he is such a good friend and knows Marnie does not love him in that way.
Oliver comes in to the story about a quarter of the way through and instantly, as the reader you can see how different his and Marnie's relationship is compared to her and Ralph. Another character we see in many of the flashbacks the past is Lucy - friend of Marnie, Ralph and Oliver although she is mainly an added person to give the story more depth I feel. However even this smaller character is brought to life by the author.
I bought my copy in Tesco when they used to have the books on the two for £7 offer so it really cost me £3.50. You can pick up a brand new copy from many online and high street stores or alternatively you can buy second hand on Ebay or just rent from the library!
This is where I struggle as when I started this book I guess I kind of expected to be able to get into it straight away because when I have read any books written under the Nicci French name I have got right into it and really enjoyed them. With this it took me a good fair few chapters to get into it at all which was a bit of a let down. I wasn't willing to give up as I had already paid for it and eventually the book reached a point where I wanted to carry on reading and find out what happened but, for me this is a big let down as I like books that grips you from the beginning or only take one or two chapters for you to b fully immersed in them.
The second thing I had about the book was that it was a bit dismal - now I can practically hear you saying that of course it will be if it is about a person dying but, there is more to it and most of the book is set in memories and flashbacks to happier times so you would expect it to mean that it should have many positive moments but, I felt the way the characters were, especially Ralph and that he could come across as quite down in his thoughts or his actions, that it made even the times that should have been happier, somewhat sad. I get that this is probably the whole point of what the author was trying to do but, I just felt it made me feel like I was reading about a whole life time that seemed awash with sadness and this was quite depressing I suppose.
All in all in the end I did feel that the book connected me somewhat as I did shed a few tears towards the end but, as a whole there was just something that stopped me enjoying it as much as I could have done and in all honesty it has put me off wanting to try one of the authors novels again when she has written on her own. Maybe it was just this book or maybe I have realised that maybe Sean French does most of the writing when they write as a duo! If you quite like something that will make you think and you like this kind of genre (which I would say is modern drama) it might be worth a go. For me it did lack something although I still can't quite put my finger on it and for this reason I will only give it a 3* rating.
I have just finished reading 'The Winter House' by Nicci Gerrard and found it an enjoyable but predictable read.
The story is based around three main characters; Marnie, Ralph and Oliver who are reunited after twenty years apart as Ralph is on his death bed.
Each chapter alternates between the past and present as we learn how the friends met and what tore them apart.
The story is well writen and I particulary liked the relationship between Marnie and her Mum; Emma. Their home and lifestyle was so beautifully described I could almost hear the sea and smell the breakfast cooking. I was certainly taken back to my childhood several times.
The reunion takes place in Scotland in a peaceful cottage at Christmas time and again the scene is described with such skill you could feel the over whelming peacefulness awaiting Ralphs death. In contrast events in Marnies home while she is away are far from peaceful!
Why the friends lost touch and what happens at the end are pretty predictable so if it is excitement and twists in a book than this is not for you. However, if you delight in heartwarming, nostalgic and poignant stories than this novel is well worth a read.
This book is by Nicci Gerrard, the 'Nicci' of the husband and wife thriller writing team, Nicci French.
This book was chosen as part of Tesco's monthly book club last autumn, so you may be able to get hold of an edition which features book club questions and an in-depth interview with the author.
However, this is not a thriller, rather a tragi-drama. At the very beginning of the novel, Marnie's life is turned upside down by a phonecall from childhood friend Oliver to tell her that another friend Ralph is dying. Marnie leaves her life in London immediately in order to travel to Scotland and spend Ralph's dying days with him and Oliver in Ralph's country cottage.
As the days unfold, we are told the story of how the three friends met, grew close and then drifted apart. Up until this point the three have not met up for many years and the reasons why for this are unravelled.
The story is told primarily from Marnie's point of view as she revisits teenage years filled with much longing and tragic loss with her mother in the Bed and Breakfast that they ran; and then how things changed for them when Ralph, and later Oliver, entered their lives. There are some sections which contain Ralph's inner monologue as he lies dying.
First off, this is not an uplifting book, so be warned if you are anything less than chirpy. There is a lot of human tragedy and loss within the story to the point where you do wonder how things could get any worse. I have to be honest, I did struggle to finish it towards the end as it was so unremittingly bleak.
I have to say, however, that it is well written. Gerrard's recollections of Marnie's childhood are surprisingly evocative and really engaging. The characterisation is also good, Marnie is a character that you can be largely sympathetic with despite the fact that she is flawed, which does help with the nature of the events that unfold.
The reasons behind why the three went their separate ways are of no great surprise as you work your way through the book and are in essence quite believable. Where my main problem with the story lies is that I was not convinced that Marnie would have dropped everything in her life to run off to Scotland, it troubled me throughout the book and even with the plot unfolding it just did not seem convincing. It was in essence just a plot device to get the story of the childhood told, which I can see but it just did not work.
And, if like me, you do not buy into this plot point, then you will probably find that the long sections at the house drag considerably.