14/02/2009

A Lifetime Burming (by Linda Gillard)

A couple of weeks ago, I was sent two books by Linda Gillard, to review for The Bookbag site. I enjoyed 'Emotional Geology', and looked forward to the second one, which I started this week.

I have to say, I would never have bought this book or even placed it on a wishlist. The proverb tells us that one should not judge a book by a cover, but I often (literally) do - and thought this one of the most unpleasant cover images I have seen for a while. Each evening when I stopped reading I placed the book face down so I would not catch sight of it unexpectedly.

But I'm very glad I did read the book. My curiosity was piqued right from the start. There's a prologue, related by Flora, at her own funeral. Then we go back to 1942, with the birth of Flora and her twin brother Rory. And then we leap forward to 1987. Then there's another section narrated by Flora from beyond the grave.

This style continues. At first I found it confusing. Every so often I had to check back to see what year I was in, but on the whole it works extremely well. I felt almost as if I were reading the book with Flora looking over my shoulder, filling in the gaps with her recollections.

Flora marries Hugh, an older clergyman who is likeable and generous, but they don't make each other happy. Rory marries Grace, a musician like himself. Their marriage is a little better, but still has some serious problems. There are other, more minor characters but they were all distinct and believable, and I found myself caring about them all.

The book features - among other things - unrequited love, the destruction of dreams, depression, betrayal of trust, and incestuous relationships. Linda Gillard treats these themes with amazing sensitivity. Somehow, people's actions make sense in the context of their circumstances.

The writing is excellent, the twists and turns of the plot unexpected, but not unbelievable. The prologue gives clues about what happens right the way through the novel, but the full picture is not clear until the end. As soon as I'd finished, I went back to the beginning and read the prologue and first couple of sections again.

Definitely recommended. Available in Kindle form as well as paperback.

(My longer review of 'A Lifetime Burning' can be found at The Bookbag site.)

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