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Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 | Category Winner for the Costa Book Awards 2017, First Novel Award | It is the standard reply when people ask, “How are you?” ....you say “I’m fine.” Well, Eleanor is most definitely not fine and has not been since she was 10 years old. Shifted from one foster home to another, she does eventually go to university where she ends up in an abusive relationship. On graduation she gets a job in the accounts department of a graphic designer and there she is when we meet her, aged 31 and desperately lonely. Eleanor is on the spectrum with her life overshadowed by some dreadful childhood tragedy which has left her face badly scarred. She keeps her head down at work and spends the weekends with two bottles of vodka. She speaks to her mother on the telephone on a Wednesday and dreads the call. We are uncertain as to whether her mother is in prison or an asylum. Life ticks by until her works’ computer needs attention and enter one geeky IT man. How he and others break down her barriers is beautifully done. Very slowly we learn more about Eleanor and her past. Very slowly a future develops but once the geek (Raymond) arrives the novel is by no means slow. It becomes a page-turning, compulsive read of great charm.
Manon Bradshaw of Missing, Presumed is back only she is now pregnant, attached to the Cambridgeshire police but working on cold cases until a murder occurs close to the school her adopted son attends. He is arrested for it. He is 12-years old. Written in alternative chapters between herself and a man who was once her junior, DS Davy Walker and a good friend, we follow the detail of police procedure over thirty-two days, straddling Christmas. Davy gives us the detail, Manon the family drama, spotted in between is the odd narrative from a few suspects, and others involved. It is both riveting and fascinating. Manon’s adopted son is black, so lots of problems in Cambridgeshire. Manon shares a house with her single mum sister and the girl’s autistic (although no-one says so), 2-year old toddler, Solomon. The boy’s father reappears and wants contact with his son which complicates the story, a story full of twists. Great stuff.
Another intensely vivid and expressive tale from Dinah Jefferies, on this occasion set in 1930’s Ceylon. All of Dinah’s books can be read as standalone novels, however ‘The Sapphire Widow’ is visited by characters from ‘The Tea Planter’s Wife’ so perhaps start there (though you certainly don’t have to). Louisa Reeve has her life torn apart after the unexpected death of her husband, as she tries to understand the hidden part of the man she loved, she finds a potential new life opening up before her. Dinah has the ability to create beauty and pain with the written word, to evoke feelings and to open minds. The pages waft scent, flavour, sound, I could almost stop, breathe in, and let the words settle around me. The story flows allowing you unfettered access, unease skittered across my awareness, heightening my anticipation and concern. ‘The Sapphire Widow’ is a gorgeous captivating tale full of emotion, and it took me outside of myself into a different world. ~ Liz Robinson
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