The Way Home (by Alexandra Raife)

In re-reading the novels by Alexandra Raife, I reached ‘The Way Home’, which is listed as sixth in her ‘Perthshire Cycle’. However it’s not necessary to have read any of the earlier books in this cycle; each one is complete in itself.

The story is about three sisters in their thirties, mainly focused on Jamie, the middle sister. We meet them as they arrive at their grandmother’s old house, after the funeral of their stepmother, whom none of them ever liked. They haven’t seen the house in years, but have just learned that they have jointly inherited it. Indeed, they should have had it some years previously when their father died.

Vanessa is the oldest sister, a classic - perhaps caricatured - home-maker. She worries about the little things: meals cooked in time, shirts that need ironing, defrosting the freezer. She runs an immaculate home which she shares with her rather too charming husband and their moody, grumpy teenage son. Vanessa is responsible, and caring, and has a secret which she is careful to hide….

Jamie has just flown in from the US, where she was working as a highly successful businesswoman. She’s always been the odd one out, a rebel in her childhood, and is considered the adventurous sister. She’s the only one who could possibly afford to buy out her sisters and own their home… or so her sisters assume. But Jamie also has a secret, something she’s reluctant to talk about to anyone, at least in her first few days back in the UK.

Phil is the youngest sister, and although she’s 34 they still see her as emotional, unable to deal with the realities of life. She works in a demanding job in a care home, and is overweight, scruffy, and cares little about appearances. She’s gentle, and intuitive, but Vanessa and Jamie rarely think to consult her, and want to protect her from what they see as the painful realities of life. Phil has a secret too, which isn’t revealed until near the end of the book.

While the viewpoint switches fairly often, we see most of the story from Jamie’s point of view as she discovers what her stepmother did to the house - removing much that made it beautiful, installing modern appliances and garish hangings. Jamies does a great deal of heart-searching, as we learn more about what happened in the US and why she’s not returning there, at least for a while.

The other important person in the book is Patrick, an old friend of the family, ten years older than Vanessa, and Jamie’s best friend. They both have to adjust to a more adult friendship, and each is aware that they feel more than friendship - but don’t want to destroy what they have by mentioning it.

The book has many intertwined subplots, as we learn more about each of the sisters, and as they learn more about each other. It took me a few chapters to get into it, as there are quite a few characters introduced early in the book. There’s perhaps a tad more introspection than I like later on, some of it a bit repetitive. But those are my only issues with the book. Once I was half-way through I could barely put it down. I have only read it once before, in 2003. While I’d vaguely remembered some of the storyline, in particular the essence of Phil’s secret, I had forgotten all the details.

The ending is perhaps a tad abrupt but mostly satisfactory. It leaves some questions open, but makes the point that each of these very different young women makes her own choices and decisions. These are based partly on circumstances, but also very much according to their own personalities and preferences.

Definitely recommended to anyone who likes thoughtful women’s fiction. Not currently in print, though it can often be found second-hand, but it's available in Kindle form.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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