15/02/2018

The Wedding Gift (by Alexandra Raife)


I am enjoying re-reading the novels written by Alexandra Raife. They are gentle, character-based stories, mostly set in Scotland. Since her characters often appear in minor roles in subsequent novels I’m trying not to leave it too long between each one, although I like to read a variety of fiction, interspersing new books with old favourites.

‘The Wedding Gift’ is the sixth novel by this author. I last read it in 2003, and had entirely forgotten the storyline. The main protagonist is a young professional woman called Cass. We meet her when she’s just got married to Guy, whom she’s been living with for a few years. It’s clear from the start that their marriage was primarily for practical and financial reasons, and that they don’t expect it to make any difference to their relationship.

As a wedding gift to each other, they have bought a weekend cottage in the highlands of Scotland. Cass has a Scottish background, and loves the location, although Guy seems less enamoured with it and she wonders for a while what made him agree to it. Gradually she realises that their expectations are very different. She wants a hideaway, a place to walk, and relax, and be part of a new community. Guy wants somewhere that he can invite business contacts. Cass wants to keep most of the original features, Guy insists on modern technology and order.

The story doesn’t have a great deal of plot; it focuses on Cass, as she gets to know the neighbours and forms some deep friendships. Some of these neighbours are the main characters from ‘Sun on Snow’ which I re-read a few months ago, so I was pleased to catch up, so to speak, with their lives. It’s not necessary to have read any of the earlier books: each one stands alone. But without knowing something about some of the families mentioned, the number of minor characters could seem a bit overwhelming, and some of the minor subplots a little irrelevant.

Both Cass and Guy are insecure people and the inevitable deterioration of their relationship is poignant in places, although I found myself wondering several times what she ever saw in him. I grew quite irritated with a couple of the women Cass gets to know, but that’s the mark of great characterisation when fictional people get under my skin, even if in a somewhat negative way.

There are some surprises, but nothing too dramatic. There’s very little action, and most of it is relaxed and gentle. It’s a book to read over a wet weekend, or (as I did) over a week or so before going to sleep at night. It’s interesting enough to want to keep reading, but not so gripping that I couldn’t put it down. There was much to think about too, about the expectations people have of marriage, and the potential problems that arise when a couple have entirely different aims and pleasures in life.

The writing is good, the story well planned and the conversations believable. Descriptions of places and insights into different workplaces and jobs all feel realistic, as if described from experience rather than research.

Recommended to anyone who likes warm-hearted and - in the end - uplifting women’s fiction.

(Note that 'The Wedding Gift' is not currently in print, although this book along with others by Alexandra Raife can often be found second-hand. The Amazon link above is to the Kindle version).

Review by copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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