A compelling tale of memory and motherhood

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When the bohemian, sophisticated Innes Kent turns up by chance on her doorstep, Lexie Sinclair realises she cannot wait any longer for her life to begin, and leaves for London. There, at the heart of the 1950s Soho art scene, she carves out a new life for herself, with Innes at her side.

In the present day, Elina and Ted are reeling from the difficult birth of their first child.

Elina, a painter, struggles to reconcile the demands of motherhood with a sense of herself as an artist, and Ted is disturbed by memories of his own childhood, memories that don’t tally with his parents’ version of events.

As Ted begins to search for answers, so an extraordinary portrait of two women is revealed, separated by 50 years, but connected in ways that neither could ever have expected.

Eilleen – I’ve read two other Maggie O’Farrell novels – I really like her style of writing and the 1950s setting. Her descriptions are fantastic – I loved the characters and how she worked the comparison between the two. She threw you straight into the story, I read it very very quickly, I’d like to go back and savour it again.

Prue: I was puzzled as to why she’d got the two stories going simultaneously – why did she do it?

Sandra: Yes, I thought it was quite slow at the beginning until I saw the connection. I thought we needed not to know because the characters didn’t. I liked the second half of the book better.

Prue: I wasn’t sure about the men, I felt this was very much a woman’s book, they really shone from the page. I thought the men, by comparison, didn’t work so well.

Ros: But I loved Innes, he was such a vivid character, the affection and love really shone out of their relationship.

Sandra: I found it very hard that he wasn’t the father of Lexie’s baby. I couldn’t believe how unconnected Ted was when Elina was so ill.

Linda: I thought that was understandable, he was in shock from the birth trauma.

Sandra: It comes across oddly in the book.

Rhona: He was disconnected in any case, with the flashbacks distracting him.

Sandra: Felix was such a weak character, never able to dictate the course of his life.

Prue: I thought it was all a bit shallow, with his big TV persona, but inexplicably feeble life as a husband.

Rhona: It’s a book to read quickly, but you can also get introspective, there is more depth there...

Eilleen: Are we conditioned to try and second guess the plot?

Rosamund: Perhaps it depends if you normally read thrillers.

Val: The detail of her writing is wonderful, it’s like still life.

Marjorie: Her descriptive passages were just superb, she builds up the suspense brilliantly.

Prue: I identified so much with the woman’s relationship to the babies – and Lexie’s feeling on going to London – I really recognised it.

Rosemary: My feeling was that the first half was tedious, too many nappies, which I was disappointed with. The author wrote passionately about the pram in the hallway – the suggestion that it completely destroys her creativeness. I felt she was perhaps showing this by the first half of this book.

Ros: I don’t agree, Elina was traumatised by the birth of her baby (the health visitor should have been sacked!), but she does gradually regain her equilibrium, and just look how Lexie coped with being a working mother.

Prue: I loved her passage about motherhood and the changes mental and physical.

Thyrza: And yet she never went back to her own mother...

Sandra: Those are important contrasts between the different mothers, and different social periods.

Eilleen: The description of Elina coming to was very vivid, it stayed with me.

Rosemary: Equally, it was very touching when she suddenly recovers and finds she can cope with her baby.

Prue: I was reading an article about Salman Rushdie – talking about writers feeling free to experiment. The author seems to be in the book, having opinions.

Rosamund: Yes, you’d think it would prevent us suspending disbelief, but somehow she still maintains the tension, even though we are told that Lexie lives a brief life.

Sandra: How long can a person maintain the wish for revenge? Margot nurtured her hatred.

Marjory: She was taught to hate by her own mother, brought up on it really.

Sandra: The way she swept in after Innes’ death, it was so ruthless.

Rosamund: But they sold their souls in the process.

The Book Group meets at The Mainstreet Trading Company in St Boswells. If you are interested in joining, email Rosamund at info@mainstreetbooks.co.uk or come to the next meeting on April 6 – they are reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro and/or Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela.