The Rose Petal Beach (by Dorothy Koomson)

I’ve been reading Dorothy Koomson’s books for some years now, and gradually adding more to my wishlist. I was surprised to discover that this particular one was sitting on my to-be-read shelf for over two years. Perhaps I was put off by the length of the novel. But I’ve finally read it in the past ten days, the majority of it in the past two as it became almost impossible to put down.

‘The Rose Petal Beach’ opens as Tamia Challey’s husband Scott is arrested. Her two young daughters are playing happily, and she has no idea that her life is about to change forever, in ways she could not possibly have imagined.

It’s a dramatic opening, made more so by being written in sequences at different times, and narrated, primarily, by three very different women. Tami is the main character; a likeable and hard-working mother who sometimes finds her husband a bit demanding and selfish, but is determined to keep going for the sake of her daughters. She has very happy memories, too, of the earlier years of her marriage and their life together before that. Scott is a complex person from a difficult background, and although I didn’t like him, he felt a very believable character.

The book is perhaps a tad slow-moving after the early chapter, as the background is filled in and we get to know Tami’s two close friends Beatrix and Mirabelle as well. It also quickly becomes clear that someone is lying, and that all the narrators are holding back part of the truth, in different ways. There are plot twists and turns which I didn’t expect as well as some which I could see coming.

By the time I was half-way through, I was gripped. Koomson tells a powerful story, revealing exactly the right amount of back story combined with people’s thoughts and feelings. There are some very important issues raised. This is not light women’s fiction, nor does it skirt about some quite unpleasant topics, but the author is skilled in her handling of them: we get an idea of what is being discussed, but without gratuitous detail.

The title of the book relates to a painting and an ancient legend, one which we don’t learn about in full until towards the end of the book. The final revelations are perhaps a tad abrupt, and I wasn’t entirely sure I believed them; yet it all makes sense in context. The clues are there, right from the start, even if I missed them.

It’s a book about women holding things together, about the victims of assault; it’s about the ease with which likeable people can slip into bad habits that can lead to serious problems. It’s about the way we all have both good and bad within us; it’s about knowing when to say ‘no’, and when to lay down boundaries.

It’s very thought-provoking, and powerful, and I hope will make people - women in particular - in situations such as those described realise that there are things they can do to escape from terrible situations.

I didn’t like the amount of bad language used, nor some of the hints of violence and other unpleasantness, but think they were all probably necessary in order to make the story realistic. This isn’t for someone who wants light and fluffy women’s fiction, and I wouldn’t recommend it to teenagers either as some of the content could be considered quite disturbing.

But for those looking for women’s fiction with a harder edge, and a great deal to think about, I would recommend this very highly.

Available in Kindle form as well as paperback.

Review by copyright 2016 Sue's Book Reviews

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