16/05/2008

Secrets and Shadows (by Mary Nickson)

It was only when trying to find a website about one of my favourite authors, Mary Sheepshanks, that I discovered that she is also known as Mary Nickson (her maiden name) and has published two novels under that name in recent years. They went immediately on my wish-list, and I was delighted to receive one of them for a recent birthday.

'Secrets and Shadows' is a fairly long book, in saga style. It's character-driven, as were the previous books by this author, and I found the characters came to life vividly and realistically.

The opening section features an elderly lady, who feels somewhat invisible while on holiday, and a small, neglected American girl called Marnie. They form an unlikely friendship, which means a lot to them both, and the elderly woman is determined to keep in touch with Marnie.

The main section of the book is set in Scotland, at an arts centre which runs various courses through the year. As this section opens, a writing course is about to begin. It's the first of the season, and the hosts - Isabel and Giles - are wondering what to expect. It wasn't until mention was made of their twin children, Amy and Edward - Amy a brilliant violinist, Edward a boy with special needs - that something clicked, and I realised this book is in fact a sequel - of sorts - to 'Off Balance (by Mary Sheepshanks)', which I thoroughly enjoyed some years ago.

Isabel and Giles are somewhat in the background in this book, interacting with the nine people who attend the course. These include Marnie, now an adult; Louisa, an old friend of Isabel's, and some other characters who were slightly caricatured, making them easy to remember and also an amusing foil for some of the more serious issues that arose in the book, looking back at the childhood and early adulthood of the participants on the course.

I enjoyed the book from the perspective of being about writing; I enjoyed it because it was set in Scotland, featuring one or two places I actually know, with even a mention of Janetta's ice cream in St Andrews, one of my favourite places! But most of all I enjoyed it because the main characters were so real, and some of the situations were extremely moving.

Mary Nickson writes very well, with a great gift of characterisation. I found this book so interesting that I could barely put it down once I had started, and finished 450 pages in about two days.

Highly recommended - I hope this author will write many more novels! Unfortunately it seems to be out of print already in the USA.

Review copyright © Sue's book reviews, 16th May 2008. All rights reserved.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am currently half way through this book and enjoying it's general rhythm. However I think it could have done with a tighter final edit considering it is set in a writing course. A lot of double negatives, wordy sentences and over narration/explanation (telling not showing). Otherwise, its a nice escape.