I’d just finished reading Freedom and wasn’t sure what to read next when a friend lent me this book by Sarah Winman. This is a novel about relationships – siblings, parents, friends – and good times, bad times – all those things that make life interesting. I’ve always said that we need to experience bad times so we can appreciate the good times when they arrive. It’s like the Wheel of Fortune tarot card.
The first half of the novel starts in 1968, where we’re introduced to Elly (at her birth) and her brother Joe (5 years older than her). Their childhood seems simple and uncomplicated on the surface, but there is a recurring theme of violence in the background – Elly’s grandparents are killed in an accident, various forms of abuse, the death of John Lennon. The second half starts in 1995 and goes through to 2001. And there’s more background violence – more abuse, the death of Princess Diana, 9/11. I found the second half quite distressing to read – perhaps because I’m more familiar with those events than the earlier ones.
Joe and Elly know all each other’s childhood secrets – and this continues as they move into adulthood. Even though they do separate and lead their own lives (one in London/Cornwall and the other in New York), they remain close. As well as having each other, they each have a best friend: Jenny Penny and Charlie. Their friendships are not conventional at all, to say the least. It’s difficult to know how much to say about them – as I don’t want to ruin it for others who might read the book!
The other characters of interest are their parents (who suddenly decide to move the family to Cornwall and open a B&B), their father’s sister Nancy (a lesbian who’s in love with their mother), their gay tenant Arthur, and his best friend Ginger.
I laughed out loud in parts and teared up in others (yes, on the bus again – still embarrassing). It wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read, but the author’s descriptive style of writing and quirky, eccentric characters make the book worth reading.
So that’s number 12 of my 20 books in 2011 – still on track!