Moving On (by Alexandra Raife)

Interspersed with new books I’m re-reading several of my favourite authors, one of whom is Alexandra Raife. She wrote twelve character-based novels, all based in Scotland, and I enjoyed them all very much, one at a time. After being given the first few, I acquired most of the rest shortly after they were published. Re-reading them ten or more years later., I’ve entirely forgotten the storylines, and am liking them all over again.

‘Moving On’ features two main characters. Helen is approaching sixty, and lives with her extremely demanding husband. She’s close friends with her near neighbour Catriona, a young and naive woman who is about to leave the village of Luig to start a business course. Catriona’s departure is the catalyst for Helen to decide that she cannot bear to stay married a moment longer…

The first part of the novel follows each of them as they embark on new lives. Catriona finds her course fairly easy, but student life in general a huge strain. Helen spends some time living with her son and his rather annoying wife but quickly realises that it’s not going to work out. And then, perhaps a year after the opening section of the book, both Helen and Catriona move back to Luig.

So the main part of the book sees the two of them re-connecting, and gradually settling into a more relaxed, fulfilling way of life. Most of the story involves different relationships; it’s a character-based book, seeing the two main characters become close once more, and also introducing a potential romantic interest - but until the final chapters, it’s not clear what’s going to happen.

There’s perhaps a bit too much introspection for my tastes. The viewpoint switches regularly, not just between Helen and Catriona, but sometimes seeing things through the eyes of other characters. It wasn’t really a problem, although it meant I didn’t feel particularly close to either of the women. I’m similar age to Helen, and found her a sympathetic character on the whole, but found it a bit annoying when she kept going over the same ground in her mind.

However, I enjoy this kind of book in general, and felt the setting and most of the people were quite believable. I’m not sure I quite swallowed Helen’s daughter-in-law’s appalling taste and total lack of empathy, but even she isn’t a deliberately bad person.

I liked Catriona, who had appeared in some of the author’s earlier books set in the same place. It’s a coming-of-age kind of story from her point of view, and also somewhat for Helen as she gradually settles into her niche and accepts who she is.

While this book stands alone, I like the way Alexandra Raife's stories often build on situations and people she has introduced in other novels. So for the sake of continuity, it's best read after - possibly -'The Larach' and perhaps more importantly, 'Belonging', the first two novels counted as part of the author's 'West Coast Trilogy'.

Definitely recommended if you like gentle women’s fiction of this kind. I shall probably re-read it again in another ten years or so.

Review copyright 2018 Sue's Book Reviews

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