08/06/2003

A Free Woman (by Libby Purves)

I do like Libby Purves' novels. She's a journalist, who writes a cynical and hard-hitting column, and this spills over into her fiction. Her writing is clear, direct without flowery description, and often introduces controversial or difficult issues in a sensitive and unexpected way.

'A Free Woman' features Sarah, a home-loving mother. It also features her sister Maggie, who is very different: she is a free spirit who travels the world doing odd jobs, only returning home for a few weeks every few years.

Maggie has just returned home, and this time she wants to learn Chinese so she arrives for a longer stay than previously. Rather to her surprise, she gets very much caught up in her role as an aunt, particularly helping her teenage niece Samantha to deal with some difficult problems.

Moreover, Maggie herself has a shock, which makes her throw something of a bombshell at the family, leading to long-lasting repercussions all round.

I thought the characters were excellent - realistic and sympathetic, and very much enjoyed this. The ending wasn't all I would have chosen, but nonetheless was hopeful for the future. Definitely recommended.

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