The Dipper (by Marcia Willett)

I started reading Marcia Willett's novels about ten years ago, I suppose, and have gradually collected them all. In the last couple of years I've been re-reading some of the one I read first, and enjoying them all over again.

Last week I re-read 'The Dipper', which I first read in 2001. I'd pretty much forgotten what it was about, although I did find that, as I read, one or two plot threads came back to me.

It's basically about three very different neighbouring couples. There's the elderly Quentin and Clemmie, who have a good marriage and contented life, other than some dark shadow from their past, hinted at in early chapters, and explored more thoroughly later on.

Then there are Claudia and Jeff who have what appears, on the surface, to be a perfect marriage. However Claudia never lets anyone know that Jeff, while polite and attentive, never seems to find her physically attractive. Her frustration grows and her self-esteem is eroded. To make things worse, she really wants to be accepted by local high society, and finds herself gently snubbed.

Finally, there are Alistair and Phyllida, a likeable couple with a delightful small daughter called Lucy. Alistair is in the navy and travels a great deal, but life is pretty good to them, and Phyllida is happy to know that she's pregnant again. Then a serious problem arises, which has ever-widening repercussions in their relationship.

These people interact with each other, and their friends and neighbours, some of whom have appeared in other novels by Marcia Willett. For someone who had never read anything by her, there might seem to be a rather overwhelming number of minor characters, with past histories hinted at, yet not having much place in this novel. I do personally quite like meeting 'old friends' in this way, but it could be confusing to someone reading this on its own, although it is of course a standalone novel.

Nothing too thought-provoking or deep, and I had no problem reading a few chapters per evening for about a week - it wasn't exactly gripping stuff. But I enjoyed it, and found a tear or two in my eyes more than once in the course of the book. I expect to re-read it again in another seven or eight years! Recommended to anyone who likes light women's fiction without any violence or bad language. But it might be worth reading one or two of the author's earlier books first.

Available in Kindle form, though not currently in print otherwise. Fairly widely available second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews 14th June 2009

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