This is an enjoyable novel, not as fluffy as some. It’s set in Hartley-by-The-Sea, Cumbria, in a small-ish village where everybody knows your name, and the story revolves around two friends who disconnected back in Year Six at primary school, when they were around eleven. Claire was the rich little princess-type, from the big house on the edge of town, who was soon to go to a private school anyway. The other, Rachel, had an unemployed dad who walked out, and a mother who broke her back while on a cleaning job and is subsequently an invalid. So cut to present day and Rachel, who is strong, competent and independent, is secretly worn out and over-whelmed with too much responsibility too young. Claire is the opposite: everyone manages her, and treats her like she’s an incompetent child – partly because of a history of health problems, and partial deafness. The characters are well-rounded and I found myself really rooting for them. The constant stress of being short of money, and working long hours to make ends meet, and feeling constantly tired and worn-down, makes Rachel’s predicament very real but also annoying. Her two sisters are apparently idle lumps: there seems no reason on earth why Rachel should work all day and then clean up after them. So that was slightly annoying, she was a bit of a martyr (but nowhere near annoying enough to want to stop reading).
And Claire was incredibly wet at first, but gradually her insecurities and sense of isolation begin to make sense, given her health and family history. I felt the characterization was sound, consistent and in-depth regarding the two main protagonists. I liked the depiction of Dan the post office man, who also figured in Rainy Day Sisters, the first Hartley-by-The-Sea novel. His extreme closed-offness and impenetrability are refreshing: he doesn’t instantly thaw and transform into a chatty socialite when he discovers love, and again his experiences are consistent with his behavior and personality now.
If I have one quibble – and it is only a small one – it is that for much of the story Rachel’s disabled mother is depicted not as a person but as a burden. I felt she was seen very much from the outside, through the lens of her long-suffering carers’ eyes. There was very little sense of empathy for her, or of her as a person at all outside of her nuisance value, until right at the end when Rachel does have a lightbulb moment that it can’t be all that good for her mum either.
But as I say a small-ish quibble. This is a solid, satisfying read, rather darker in places than you might expect but in a good way. It has more depth and realism.