Casting Off (by Libby Purves)

I've read and enjoyed most of Libby Purves' novels, the first of which was 'Casting Off'. I found it second-hand, and read it in 2002 - prompting me to start collecting the rest of her books, as I enjoyed it so much.

I decided it was time to read it again. The front cover says: 'Joanna Trollope meets Tom Sharpe - great fun!' - and although I haven't read any Tom Sharpe, I think that byline is pretty close to correct. It's a light-hearted novel with more serious themes underlying it, and very well-written.

The story features Jo, a middle-aged mother of two, who decides on the spur of the moment to take the family yacht for a sail after an argument with her husband. She only intends to go out for a short time, but is caught up in rather bad weather conditions. Meanwhile her husband, Keith, reports her as missing to the police; a bad move, he realises when he starts to think clearly after his first initial shock, since he knows exactly where she is and she hasn't been gone long.

Unfortunately, one of the police officers leaks the story to a journalist, who makes far more of it than the truth.. and then some other papers get hold of it too.

Meanwhile Keith and Jo's delightful son Lance is travelling the world in his gap year, and their not-so-delightful daughter Susan is determined not to go to sixth-form college to take A-levels. Susan is aided and abetted by her friend Analiese, daughter of Jo's friend Mandy and Keith's colleague Alex....

Yes, there are a lot of people in this book, but I've remembered them all without checking. Some of them were a bit caricatured, but that's not a bad thing with minor characters. They were mostly believable, too, even though the story got slightly more bizarre as it went on, a comedy of errors and mistakes, combined with a haunting secret from Jo's past that is eventually revealed and laid to rest.

The writing is crisp, the people real enough for me to care about them, the situations realistic (albeit unlikely). I did have a mild problem with so many nautical terms being used through the story, since I didn't understand them all, but they added to the realism. Sailing people do use all kinds of jargon words. Libby Purves is a sailor herself, so they were undoubtedly accurate - and towards the end she does poke fun, slightly, at sailing jargon when one of the characters doesn't understand it (and thinks it rather silly).

The ending is a predictable, but that's all to the good in a story like this when it could have gone anywhere. Not currently in print, but widely available second-hand.


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