Anne has crowned the last day of the Random Things blog tour… HERE
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving, thought-provoking, engaging
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 7 August 2020
From the moment I began to read, I remembered how much I’d previously enjoyed Lynne McVernon’s writing, when I first discovered Clair and her diva daughter Jess. This is a sequel of sorts, and an opportunity to meet again some of those distinctive characters – but entirely self-contained, and 100% readable as a standalone. This is Annie Buchanan’s story – and what a story it is.
This book drew me in from the very first page, and kept me in its grip throughout the first part as we discover Annie’s life now, and her rather special relationship with son Jude. Her first person stream of consciousness takes us back in time to her teenage discovery that she was adopted, her flight to London from her Scottish home, and the experiences that shaped her. It’s quite a story, a naive and unworldly young girl who struggles to survive, confusing kindness with other things rather less savoury, suffers some quite appalling experiences – and returns home, her life entirely changed by her adventure. The writing is quite excellent, both in allowing us to see everything through Annie’s eyes, and through the extraordinarily vivid depiction of the realities of life on the streets.
And then, another flight – a real one this time to the island of Symi, with her son Jude, home to her brother Fraser (and Clair and Jess). The island paradise is perfectly evoked – its beauty, its blue skies and sunshine, the warmth of its characters – but the influx of both tourists and refugees has deeply changed the dynamic of the islands. The damage wrought by Annie’s experience is mirrored by the stories of those fleeing for their lives, the real kindness of those who offer their support – with glimpses of the way in which such experiences can shape the future. I was shamefully unaware of the situation affecting the islands and its people – the way the story unfolds in its second part certainly opened my eyes to that, as Annie travels on to Leros and shares significant parts of both its past and present.
And then, in the book’s final third, the whole story takes an entirely unexpected turn and verges on a psychological thriller – although the clues were there throughout had I chosen to pick up on them. Tension, pursuit, putting all the pieces together, seeing things clearly – the pacing is perfect, the emotional content so well drawn. Viewed from above, Leros looks like a piece from a jigsaw – and it proves to be where some of life’s complexities achieve resolution and the big picture is finally completed.
Am I making the book feel a little on the heavy side? Despite its content, it most certainly isn’t – the humour is always present, with the author’s clear affection for Annie and her sometimes questionable choices shining through. That same feeling of affection applies to Fraser too – he sometimes takes up the narrative, and I enjoyed his voice every bit as much as Annie’s. There’s a focus on friends and the complexities of family that I enjoyed, a number of other well-handled themes around alienation and belonging, even a touch of romance – this was a book that really worked, and I found it moving, thought-provoking and engaging.
Do read Alaa’s real-life story at the book’s end – it’s a postscript of sorts, but also a perfect prompt for discussion of the desperate plight of refugees, and the need for both action and compassion. Quite a book – and one I enjoyed very much, and would recommend most highly.