Genre: Literary Fiction, Family
Narrative Style: Two third person linked narratives.
Synopsis: Lexie Sinclair feels suffocated by her parents simple lifestyle. When she meets magazine editor, Innes Kent, she stiffens her resolve to move to London and do something with her life. Ted and his wife, Elina have just had a baby. Elina is an artist and is struggling to recover from the birth which saw her nearly die. Ted is starting to be plagued by memories that he can’t place. How are the two stories – some thirty years apart – connected and will it help Ted sort out who he really is?
I really enjoyed this book. I was intrigued from the first moment until the last. Even though I figured some things out, others were still a mystery to me. O’Farrell dropped clues subtly throughout so there was always some new bit of information to mull over.
I was immediately drawn to the character of Lexie. She was larger than life, held back by the social conventions of fifties England. At the beginning of the novel, she is at home in Devon, having been sent down from Oxford for going through a door marked men only. This could be solved with an apology which Lexie refuses to give. Her family only want to see her married. She knows she has to escape so when she meets Innes Kent, whose car has broken down outside Lexi’s house, she makes up her mind to move to London. He leaves her his card and soon the pair are involved in an unconventional relationship.
The other narrative strand is set in a more modern London and tells the story of Ted and his wife, Elina who are new parents. Elina nearly died during the birth and initially cannot even remember it. Ted is equally off kilter, unable to recover from the sight of his wife during the birth. When he starts to have odd episodes, it seems at first, that it relates to this traumatic event. However, it soon becomes clear that there is something strange about Ted’s childhood that his parents are not telling him about.
To say anything more about the plot would mean giving away spoilers but needless to say, I found it compelling. There are subtle clues as to what the link between the two storylines will be – such as the fact that Lexie will not live to be old – that intrigue the reader without giving too much away. Ted works as a film editor, moving scenes to fit into a narrative and that is what the reader must do here, try to form separate memories into a coherent narrative.
Both women were portrayed as being unconventional. Lexie, in particular was a vivid, colourful character who refused to compromise, in her personal and professional life. Elina was an artist, working through the night, refusing to even adapt to society’s ideas of when you should sleep and when you should work. Both women have children out of wedlock and Elina and Ted decide to give the baby Elina’s surname.
Towards the end of the novel, it grows more obvious what the link between the two storylines is and I started to really feel for Ted. He starts to have strange memories that he can’t place which culminate when they visit Lyme Regis and he has a panic attack that lands him in hospital. The revelations are heartbreaking for all concerned.
From about halfway through, when I started to have inklings about what the end result was going to be, I could not put this down. O’Farrell’s writing is poetic in its description but also managed to keep the tension going. No mean feat.