An Ocean Apart (by Robin Pilcher)

About sixteen years ago, I discovered that while my favourite modern novelist Rosamunde Pilcher had just about retired from writing, her son Robin Pilcher had started writing novels. Intrigued, I bought this book (second-hand, although it was only a couple of years old) which was his debut novel. I didn’t know what to expect, as I tend to prefer family saga/romantic fiction when it’s written by women. But once I’d started I could hardly put it down.

So it was more than time for a re-read, and I picked up ‘An Ocean Apart’ just four days ago. I was slightly daunted by the length - well over 500 pages - and thought it would last me a couple of weeks as bedtime reading.

The story is primarily about a thirty-something Scot called David, who lives with his parents in their manor house. He has been working in his father’s business, a large whisky manufacturer, but as we quickly learn he suffered a tragedy shortly before the book options, and is seriously depressed as well as deeply grieving.

I was delighted to learn that the author has evidently inherited (or absorbed) some of his mother’s immense skill in characterisation. I would not expect to have anything in common with a wealthy upper-class depressed businessman, but David quickly got under my skin. His parents were rather more ephemeral, but I very much liked their housekeeper Effie, and also what I saw in the early chapters of David’s children, Sophie, Charlie and Harriet.

I had almost entirely forgotten the story, but vaguely recalled that David gets called back to work because he’s the only person who is available to fly to the US for some important business meetings; by the time I reached that stage in the story I was hooked. One chapter was nowhere near enough for me to read at bedtime, and I often found myself reading far later than I had intended. I then read a lot at the weekend, and finished it in just four days.

While some of the subplots relating to the business went a little over my head, it didn’t matter; I got the general gist, and what mattered to me most were the relationship aspects. David, who is an extremely likeable person, discovers that he can make a difference in the lives of some lonely people. The bulk of the story takes place over about a month, and the pace works well.

The writing is excellent, with the right amount of description, believable dialogue and some strong emotion. There was one particularly moving scene, towards the end, where I found myself in tears. The romance, inevitable from fairly early on, is very low-key, only coming to resolution towards the end.

Perhaps the final scenes are somewhat abrupt and a tad contrived; I’d have liked a little more, rather than just a hint of what the future might hold. But it’s better to stop a novel leaving the reader wanting more rather than trying to tie up every loose end. I shall think about Robin Pilcher's characters for days to come.

Very highly recommended. Several editions were printed, but sadly it's currently out of print. Fairly easy to find second-hand, however.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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