19/04/2008

Time for a Change (by Erica James)

I first discovered Erica James' books almost by accident, when I was given one as a gift at the end of 1999. I liked it, and - as I do - decided to start collecting all her novels. I bought a few, and have been given others, and recently decided it was time to start re-reading those which I read eight years ago.

About a month ago I re-read 'A Breath of Fresh Air', so it seemed like a good idea to re-read its sequel, 'Time for a Change', which I first read in 2000.

I could remember the beginning of the book. Hilary, who always likes to be in control of herself, her family, and those around her, discovers evidence that her husband David has been having an affair. He talks in his sleep to someone called 'Catherine', and she also comes across a restaurant receipt for a meal for two, when he was supposed to be out at a Rotary club dinner.

As she ponders, more and more things start to add up. David has been rather distant, somewhat stressed, even more tight over money than usual in recent weeks, and - most telling of all - has spent a vast amount of time 'working late' at the office.

Hilary is devastated. She still loves David, and does not want to disrupt their mostly contented family life, or hurt their two children. She discusses the problem with her sister, and one or two unlikely friends, who give her various forms of advice - either to confront David, or to have an affair herself, or to be stoic and pretend it hasn't happened.

She is sure the last option must be the least harmful, having watched a neighbour do just that over many years, but Hilary is not the same kind of person as her neighbour. She finds herself frequently tearful, often angry, abrupt with her children - so much so that she doesn't even notice that her 11-year-old sensitive son is being bullied at his new school - and very confused.

The story is mainly about her beginning to come to terms with her reactions, and sorting out her priorities, and deciding what is worthwhile doing for the future. It's also enlivened by a few subplots featuring other characters from the first book, including some comic relief when a few inhabitants of the village start a campaign to remove 'smut' from the shelves of the local newsagent.

'Time for a Change' is mostly light-hearted, fast-paced and warm with good characterisation. But the underlying theme is quite serious - examining, as it does, the struggle between maintaining personal values and family unity: when to speak and when to be silent. Hilary matures significantly in this book, building some positive relationships with people she had previously rather written off.

When I first read the book eight years ago, I thought the ending predictable. I'm not entirely sure why, since I had completely forgotten it this time around, and was in the dark as to how the book was going to end, right up to the last dramatic chapter.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys light character-driven village fiction with more depth than some.

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