26/04/2015

One Step Closer to you (by Alice Peterson)

I have loved all the books I’ve read by Alice Peterson. She has a tremendous gift of characterisation and of gentle plots that grapple with some surprisingly gritty issues. Throw in at least one major character with a disability of some kind, and her books are often deeply moving and thought-provoking.

So I was delighted to spot this, looking as if it had never been read, in a charity shop in the UK a few months ago. I've just finished reading it, and what a terrific read it was!

Polly is the main protagonist. She’s a single mother raising her son Louis who has just started school. The story works in a series of scenes, both present - moving forward - and past, in a way that could have been confusing, but which works extremely well.

Gradually we learn more about Polly: about her almost-blind brother Hugo, who has been a tremendous support to her, and how much she missed him when he went to a boarding school for the blind as a child. We learn, too, that Polly has struggled with addictions, and a bad relationship with Matthew, Louis’s father.

Then she meets Ben, uncle of one of the girls in Louis’s class, who has had to become a guardian to his niece. He knows very little about children, and little Emily is deeply stressed about the loss of her mother. Ben and Polly become friendly and the children do too; Polly finds herself thoroughly enjoying having a thoroughly nice man as a close friend after some bad experiences with men in the past.

But Louis wants to know about his father, and then - to Polly’s dismay - Matthew returns to their lives, insisting that he’s a changed person and wants to get to know his son…

I found myself feeling deeply involved with Polly in this book, despite my life having been very different from hers. I could relate to her as a mother, and the tension of wanting to do the right thing for one’s child. I liked Ben, too, very much, and the way their friendship develops was quite moving and entirely believable, raising - in a low-key way - issues about the potential problems of a platonic close friendship between a man and a woman of similar age.

Hugo is an extremely likeable person, too, who doesn’t allow his disability to get in the way of his career or his love-life. He and Polly are very close and I loved the way he was portrayed as a strong, entire person who makes the most of what he has. There are insights into the workings of AA which could have seemed stereotyped, and yet were themselves quite moving and believable; I gradually realised that it was Polly, not Hugo, who had the greater disability.

The plot is quite slow-moving with gradual revelations rather than anything too dramatic. This isn’t a book for those who like fast action, or thrills. There’s a bit of tension here and there, but only in a low-key way, which is my preference. However, if you like character-based modern fiction with a great deal of insight, I would recommend this very highly.

Not currently in print in paperback in the US, but available in Kindle form on both sides of the Atlantic.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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