Belonging (by Alexandra Raife)

A relative recommended Alexandra Raife’s novels to me many years ago, and over the years I gradually collected them. She hasn’t published anything since 2004, however, so in recent years I’ve started re-reading them.

A few weeks ago I decided to start ‘Belonging’, which I last read in 2002. With family commitments I’ve only read a chapter - sometimes less! - each evening, and it’s been an ideal novel in that sense. It’s character-driven, warm and mostly gentle, but also absorbing, enabling me to wind down after a busy day.

Rebecca is the main viewpoint character, a young and determined woman who, as the story starts, is leaving her high powered job, her flat and her nearby mother. She has recently had an encounter which has disturbed her so greatly that she needs to move away; we don’t discover what happened until much later in the book, but it leaves a trail of mystery that hooked my interest immediately.

Rebecca has decided to visit her cousin Tony’s large family hotel on the other side of Scotland. She doesn’t particularly like him, but she’s fond of his wife Una and looks forward to a break. When she arrives she discovers Una in distress, about to cancel all the bookings for the summer… and Rebecca finds herself drawn into hotel management and troubleshooting and generally making things happen.

There are many side storylines, and in part it’s a story of growth and development for Una, as well as something to take Rebecca’s mind away from her recent shock. There are many insights into the world of running a hotel and ‘survival’ courses alongside it, which feel realistic and interesting rather than over-detailed or ‘researched’.

There are brief appearances from people and places that featured in earlier novels by this author, although I don’t remember exactly who, nor was it necessary to have read any of the earlier books. But I like the sense of continuity, of feeling myself returning to a familiar place.

All in all, I liked this novel very much. I’d recommend it to anyone who likes thoughtful women’s fiction with realistic, warm characters and interesting locations.

Review copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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