19/08/2011

Stolen (by Susan Lewis)

I first came across Susan Lewis when reading her autobiography, 'Just One More Day', which I borrowed from a friend and thoroughly enjoyed. It took a couple of years to acquire a few of her novels, but I was very put off by the first one I read, which had far too many gratuitous and explicit details, even including some violence. The story and writing were good, but the scenes I had to skip were so bad that I was rather dubious about reading any more by this author.

However, I was contacted by one of Susan Lewis's publicity team, who offered to send me her recent publication 'Stolen' for review. Always delighted to be sent a free copy of a book, I started reading it on Sunday.

Despite it being a long novel - nearly six hundred pages - I finished it in just four days. It is a powerful and emotive story, which became almost impossible to put down by the time I was half way through.

The story features Lucy, who has grown up as an only child in a loving family, and now has two teenagers of her own. She has become increasingly unhappy in her marriage to the cheerful but disloyal actor Joe. As the story begins, she is about to move with their rebellious daughter Hanna to her parents' home in the countryside, to take over their antiques business. Joe - who insists that he does not want the marriage to end despite regular unfaithfulness on his behalf - will be staying behind to look for work, and their son Ben is going abroad for a gap year.

If all this were not sufficient stress points for one individual - and Lucy does not handle partings well; her family are all aware that she can become phobic when saying goodbye to anyone - she soon realises that all is not well in her new environment. Employees of the auction room resent her presence, and try to undermine her; worse, there are threats of legal action from a dissatisfied client, and the possibility of some underhand dealings in past auctions.

Moreover her parents both seem to have health problems, and her mother is particularly nervous, clearly harbouring some kind of secret. Due to the prologue of the book, set thirty years previously, readers are already aware that Lucy is not who she seems to be - but do not know if this is the only secret being kept. It's a clever device, meaning that the tension gradually increases over the majority of the book, before the inevitable revelations which build on the brief prologue and which explain many other threads that all draw together in Lucy's first few months in her new home.

The writing is excellent. There are a lot of characters, and I found some of them a little confusing at first, but soon sorted most of them out in my mind. Lucy comes across as very human and believable, and while Hanna's change of heart perhaps happens a little too neatly, and the underhand employee thread seems to be tidied away a bit too easily, most of the book hangs together extremely well.

I could feel for Lucy in her stresses and dilemmas, increasingly confused and deeply hurt, yet needing to go on for the sake of those she loves. And there is a lot of love in this book. Some wonderful friendships are forged, and I was moved by the way so many people were willing to put themselves out - in one case in an immense act of sacrifice - for the sake of those they cared about.

I was relieved to find that there was no bad language, no detailed violence, and no explicit sex. If I have a criticism, it would be that there are some over-long descriptive passages that did not add anything to the story. It's long enough, and I felt that it would have benefitted from a little editing here and there. However, it wasn't a huge thing, and I was easily able to skim them. Other readers might decry the ending which was perhaps a bit too neat and tidy, but I rather liked it myself.

All in all, I enjoyed 'Stolen' thoroughly, and will probably be pondering some of the issues raised for some time to come.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 19th August 2011

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