Starting Over (by Marcia Willett)

I'm very much enjoying re-reading Marcia Willett's novels. Mostly I space them out, interspersing with at least five or six other books. But this time, I decided to read one straight after another.

Part of the reason for doing so, is that the same characters often appear, albeit in minor roles, in the different books. If I leave it too long between books, I forget who they are. I always remember the young men Guy and Giles, who are twins, but lose track of their various friends and relatives. So, having just finished 'Second Time Around', which featured Giles, I thought I'd re-read the one published after it, 'Starting Over', which I first read in 2000.

To my surprise, and somewhat to my confusion, I quickly realised that this book is set some years earlier. It should probably have been read directly after Willett's first novel, 'Those who Serve', which cover the events leading up to the death of the teenage Charlotte, since it takes place about a year after the events at the end of that book.

There are several sub-plots involved. Pippa, in an unhappy marriage. Hugh, feeling a lot of unnecessary guilt over Charlotte's death. Annie, recently widowed but still relying on words of wisdom from her dead husband. Frances, desperately worried that her husband is being unfaithful. And Max, who has a dream of building an outdoor centre for children. I'd totally forgotten what happened in the book, in which Guy and Giles are about 17, and enjoyed it afresh.

It's probably best to read after 'Those who serve' to understand better who is whom, and to get greater depth of empathy with Hugh and some of the other characters. But it does stand alone; events are explained without being too repetitive, although the sheer number of people mentioned might seem excessive.

Thought-provoking in places, considering questions about middle-class mentality (like Pilcher, Willett seems to assume that the wealthy middle classes send their children to boarding schools and then university - not my understanding of middle classes, but apparently so in some circles), and also looking at what marriage means. A few Christian references here and there, but nothing preachy.

All in all, a good book. Recommended. Not currently in print, but often found second-hand.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 28th October 2009

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