07/01/2019

A Question of Trust (by Alexandra Raife)

I have re-read several of Alexandra Raife’s novels in the past year. I first came across her, at the recommendation of a relative, about eighteen years ago, and gradually acquired and read all her novels - twelve in all. They are all relationship-based, set in Scotland.

I last read ‘A Question of Trust’ in 2006, and it was probably my least favourite of Raife’s novels although I felt it was still a good story. The author writes fluently, with sufficient description to make her places feel familiar, and her people are three-dimensional, including the minor characters. Conversations flow well, and I like the way that many of the novels include people who have been introduced in earlier books; not that it’s necessary to have read them before, as they all stand alone.

Philippa is the main character in this story. She’s a very likeable person, mostly calm and kind, from a distinctly upper-middle class background but with no pretensions. It’s clear, when we meet her in the first chapter, that she’s been hurt in the past; but she’s building a life for herself in a cottage near the West coast of Scotland. She has plenty of friends, some of whom would love to see her married to one of their inner circle, but she keeps herself slightly aloof, working as many hours as she can at odd jobs: administration, babysitting, catering, and more.

Jon is the person who, inevitably, falls for Philippa despite her being very different from any of the women he has previously had relationships with. Jon is a rough, ex-army type, with something of a chip on his shoulder and a lot of hidden anger. He’s in hiding - or at least in a rest period - after an enterprise which we learn more about later in the book. He’s tired, drained, and quite nervous and when we first meet him he’s spending a lot of time drinking. He’s rented a small place for a year, not far from where Philippa lives, but knows he could be called back to dangerous work at any time.

The plot itself is perhaps clich├ęd: Jon and Philippa meet, are attracted to each other, clash, clear up misunderstandings, get closer, clash again… but although I often felt frustrated with them both, the writing is good, and there’s a fair amount of emotion involved, as well as plenty of interaction with other characters. There’s a tad too much introspection for my tastes, and by the final chapters I was wanting to bang their heads together: each of them is caught up in pride and fear of being hurt. But feeling anything for characters is a mark that they have got under my skin.

I also found it hard to like Jon. He is so angry, so driven by bias and jealousies that it’s hard to see how anyone, least of all gentle Philippa, could be happy with him long-term. Perhaps someone like her, who can turn insults to teasing, and accept him exactly as he is, is the only kind of person who could possibly help him become more balanced as a person. But in many cases it felt as if he were riding roughshod over her, and I didn’t like it.

My main frustration with the book is that the viewpoint switches far too frequently, sometimes to someone other than the two main characters. Even when it’s restricted to Jon and Philippa, it often alters from one to the other within a single scene: so rather than seeing everything from one point of view, we leap from one to the other, reading their thoughts alternately, and I found this quite confusing. It also made it harder to see either point of view in scenes of this.

Still, once I had got into the story, I found it difficult to put down. Events move at quite a pace, and while there are many misunderstandings and reunions, each is written in a different way, with a variety of circumstances. I’m glad I re-read it, and will probably read it again in another ten years or so.

'A Question of Trust' is not currently in print, although it's available (at least in the UK) in Kindle form. Paperback versions can often be found in second-hand or charity shops.

Review by Sue F copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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