02/07/2017

The Holiday (by Erica James)

I’ve been reading and gradually collecting Erica James’ books for nearly twenty years now. In recent years I’ve started re-reading them, interspersed with other books, and the time had finally come to re-read ‘The Holiday’. I first read this novel in 2001, and didn’t like it at all. I felt that it compared unfavourably to the author’s earlier books, and was almost put off her writing entirely.

I’m glad I decided to continue reading her books, as I enjoyed her next few very much indeed. But I’ve been somewhat reluctant to re-read ‘The Holiday’. However I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago, in a very busy period, thinking I would read a chapter or two per evening. I knew it wouldn’t require too much thought, and I determined to give it a fair try. Sometimes I’m simply in the wrong mood for a novel and like it much better on re-reading.

I had entirely forgotten the characters, although I recalled the general idea: that of several diverse characters in a holiday resort on a Greek island. Max and Laura are a happily married forty-something couple who spend a fair bit of time in Corfu. They’ve invited their close friend Izzy, who is a teacher, and getting over an unpleasant relationship break-up. They’ve also invited their daughter Francesca and her friend Sally, although Sally has something of a reputation as a serious flirt. Max’s parents pay a visit too.

A few houses away lives Theo, a wealthy and charming Greek businessman, and he is being joined by his close friend Mark, a writer who has a very difficult past. Other visitors include a nouveau riche and rather brash couple, and a tense, warring family whose only nice member is the nerdy Harry.

Clearly Erica James has something of a gift of characterisation; I’m writing this a couple of days after finishing the book and I still recall all the names and most of the situations. It’s not a plot-driven book. The novel - and it’s over 500 pages long - just spans the summer months, gradually building on the different people, revealing their pasts, and revolving around the different relationships as they evolve.

There’s undoubtedly a lot of sand and sun in the story, and (in my view) rather too much factual information about Corfu. I skipped the sections where outings or restaurants were described in detail as they didn’t add anything to the story. I had no interest in the itinerary which Max and Laura followed with his parents. However, the novel itself seemed quite tame as far as intimacies and bedroom scenes go. I’m surprised that I gave it such a harsh rating sixteen years ago.

It’s possible that, last time, I was frustrated that there was no ‘real’ story; but this time I enjoyed the interactions of the various cast, and was quite moved by some of the unravelling of past stresses and (in one case) addictions. The main characters are all sympathetic, and while one or two of the minor ones were caricatured and unpleasant, they were mostly given mitigating circumstances or allowed some development that made them more believable.

There was nothing that shocked me, nothing that left a bad taste in my mouth - and a satisfying ending, even if one or two of the final scenes and events were somewhat unlikely.

Nothing too heavy, yet some deep issues are covered, and I’d recommend it to anyone who likes character-driven women’s fiction. Great holiday reading as it’s easy enough to put down, and the main characters are clearly distinguished, so little chance of forgetting who’s who.

All in all, I liked this very much and am very pleased that I decided to re-read it.

Review by copyright 2017 Sue's Book Reviews

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