The Exiles in Love (by Hilary McKay)

It seems amazing to me that, only 18 months ago now, I had never heard of Hilary McKay. I now have several of her books on my shelves. They are intended for older children and teenagers, but are the kind of books that can be read and enjoyed just as much by adults wanting something light and relaxing.

I was very pleased to find 'The Exiles in Love' in a thrift store, and have just finished reading. It's the third novel in the trilogy about the Conroy girls: Ruth, Naomi, Rachel and Phoebe. The first in the series is simply called 'The Exiles', and the middle one is 'The Exiles at Home'. It's not necessary to have read either of these first, but it would help to do so, setting the scene and introducing the entire family including the redoubtable 'Big Grandma'.

This book is a little different from the others, told primarily in flashback form. At the start of each chapter there are snippets of conversation, evidently from the point of view of the girls when they are adults. They reminisce about the summer when they developed the 'family failing' of falling in love with unsuitable people. Often with several at once.

The story takes us through several crushes on Ruth's behalf, starting with a bus driver. There's also a strange new English teacher at their school (who reminded me, somehow of Gilderoy Lockhart in the film version of 'Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets'). Then around half way through the book we meet the handsome and charming Philippe, the French grandson of an old friend of Big Grandma's. He comes to stay and rather revolutionises their chaotic household with offers of doing chores, and general politeness and helpfulness.

The last few chapters feature a stay in France which is theoretically to cure the older girls of the family failing. There are some odd goings on although I guessed what most of them referred to. The later reminiscences continue at the top of each chapter, and by the last couple of them, it becomes clear what the 'current day' event is going to be.

I liked the structure once I became used to it, and I enjoyed reading this short book that tied up a lot of ends in the series, and made a good finale to the trilogy. It's more appropriate for young teenagers than little girls, as - unsurprisingly - it features lots of falling in love, albeit in a totally non-physical and over-dramatic way. I doubt if this would appeal to boys at all since the four main characters are all female.

There's some gentle humour, often involving caricatured characters, and a bit more insight into the lives of this delightful family.  The writing is great, and although it took me a few days to read, in just ten minutes or so at a time, it's not a long book - less than 200 pages - and could be read by a fast reader in a couple of hours.

Definitely recommended if you've read the other two in the series; if you haven't, it would probably seem a bit disjointed, so I'd recommend starting with one of the others. First published in 1996 but still in print.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 1st November 2012

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