Ribbon of Years (by Robin Lee Hatcher)

Some years ago, I read and liked some of the novels by Robin Lee Hatcher. She’s an American Christian writer, and I find many books in the US Christian fiction genre to be rather trite, but on the whole I thought this author’s books were well-written, covering some rather deeper topics than is typical.

So I was pleased when I saw ‘Ribbon of Years’ available to download free for my Kindle. I started reading it on a flight to the UK, and finished it on the return flight a week later. The story is mainly about a woman called Miriam; we meet her first as a headstrong teenager in 1936, and then follow her through her remarkably difficult life until she turns eighty.

The book begins well; it opens in 2001 and introduces us to Julianna, a woman in her forties who is looking for a house to buy. She acknowledges that she’s rather bored, and wishes things could be different. She starts looking over a house, and comes across a box of mementoes. Then she meets an elderly man, who evidently knows the former owner of the house. He talks about Miriam, and then the next section of the book takes us back to 1936 where we meet her as a restless teenager.

It’s a good device to begin the book, but unfortunately it doesn’t really work for the rest of it. Every so often we’re whizzed back to 2001, and another item is taken out of the box, then after a page or two the action returns (albeit with a leap forward in Miriam’s life) to the 20th century. Julianna isn’t developed as a person, and by the final section, I’d forgotten who the other people in her life were.

However, the vast majority of the story is about Miriam, her relationships and family and working life. Inevitably she’s caught up in the war, with friends and relatives going abroad to fight in Europe, not all of them returning. She falls in love and is happy, but dogged by a problem… she’s just about accepted it when something unexpected occurs, followed by a terrible tragedy.

As this is Christian fiction, I wasn’t surprised at the Scripture references, and discussions about finding Jesus - but I found the sheer number of them rather excessive. I don’t know who the intended audience is: for someone who is already a believer, these sections are somewhat superfluous. For someone who is not, they would probably put them off altogether.

At the start of the book, there are some people with a real faith and others whose beliefs are rather nominal, but as the story progresses there are more and more discussions about personal relationships to God and surviving the storms of life - and poor Miriam suffers considerably more than anyone I’ve known, despite her faithfulness.

The later part of the book covers some serious issues; it would be a spoiler to say what they are, but I felt that on the whole they were handled sensitively and in a positive way, although I suspect that some of what Miriam says would be criticised by many.

I didn’t find any of the characters particularly believable; the writing is good, but I found it all rather depressing, on the whole. I kept reading, but it’s not a novel I would want to read again.

Review by Sue F copyright 2019 Sue's Book Reviews

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