The House of New Beginnings (by Lucy Diamond)

I have liked the books I’ve read by Lucy Diamond so far, and in a bid to acquire more modern women’s fiction, I put a couple more of her books on my wishlist last year. I was given ‘The House of New Beginnings’ last Christmas, and have just finished reading it.

The novel is about several diverse women who all happen to live in the same block of flats in Brighton. The first one we meet is Georgie, who has just arrived and is waiting for her boyfriend. They come from Yorkshire, but he has been given a six-month contract to work in Brighton, and she has decided to come too. She seems to take their relationship rather more seriously than he does, and is quite excited about the thought of getting to know a new town.

Next we meet Rosa, working as sous chef for a grumpy boss in a local hotel. It quickly becomes clear that she gave up a much more glamorous job due to relationship stresses, and her story unfolds gradually through the course of the book. Rosa is clearly a very good cook, and loves to bake cakes and other goodies for friends… but her current job involves chopping onions and being shouted at, so is not very inspiring. As Rosa returns to the flat one afternoon, she sees another resident, Jo, being taken out by ambulance. She agrees to keep an eye on Jo’s teenage daughter Bea.

Then there’s Charlotte, who we met briefly in a slightly cryptic prologue that didn’t really add much to the book. Charlotte is grieving the loss of her baby daughter; again, we don’t learn much about this until later in the book. Charlotte works in an estate agent’s office, where she tries to maintain a low profile. She’s not particularly enamoured with her work or her colleagues, but is evidently good at what she does.

Finally there’s Margot, an elegant and elderly Frenchwoman who lives on the top floor. Unlike the younger women, she has lived in this flat for a long time. She’s had quite a past, too, and is extremely sociable.

Gradually, through varying circumstances, these women get to know each other and to develop tentative friendships. There are some potential romances, mostly fairly low-key, which all develop in satisfactory ways, and I quite liked the scenes involving the teenage Bea. She’s extremely moody at first, worried about her mother and very angry with her absent father. But Rosa, helped by her baking, manages to break through some of her teenage angst.

So - overall, an interesting storyline, and a positive outcome. I wish there hadn’t been so much bad language and ‘adult’ activity mentioned (though the author does, at least, avoid any intimate details). But my biggest struggle with the book is that Rosa, Jo, Charlotte and Georgie all seem remarkably similar in personality. They have different backgrounds, and different abilities, but their conversational styles and general behaviours are difficult to distinguish.

Margot, being older and French, is more typecast, and rarely leaves her flat anyway. But if I picked up the book when I was tired, and started reading a chapter about one of the four younger women, I sometimes had to go back to an earlier chapter to remind me which one it was about. They laugh at the same things, have the same ethics and morals, and pretty much the same personalities, though Georgie is more extraverted than the others. I didn’t feel a strong attachment to any of them, so although I was interested in how the various subplots developed, I didn’t feel any particular interest in any of the characters, other than perhaps Bea.

Still, it was a pleasant light read, recommended in a low-key way to anyone who likes modern women’s fiction (sometimes called 'chick-lit'). It could be good to take on holiday or read at the beach.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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