This is my fourth book from the Romantic Novel of the Year longlist: BEACHCOMBING by Maggie Dana.
I’ve actually been reading steadily through the long list and not blogging at all in the busy few weeks since Christmas. (Okay, I admit it, that’s my priorities for you.) As a result, I’m backed up with notes on several other long-listers. Will put them up in short order, I promise.
BEACHCOMBING is another first novel. This time it’s from the MacMillan New Writing stable which, along with Authonomy and the Romantic Novelists’ own New Writing Scheme, are seen as good routes to publication .
Jill Hunter had a boyfriend when she was a teenager, the sort of boyfriend that teenagers dream about and almost nobody finds – handsome, kind, considerate, divinely competent, and not ashamed to hold hands. They have a moment of passion and then he disappears. Well, his father is disgraced and the family moves away, but it’s hardly his fault and he never gets in touch. It niggles. Even after moving continents, marriage, divorce, two sons and a whole load of life experiences, a bit of Jill still has this question mark – and this template of perfect love.
Flashbacks are an integral part of this book and one of it strengths is that you see how the teenager is still part of the mature woman – and vice versa. The plot moves from Jill’s beach home (and hanging-on-by-the-fingernails career) in small town Connecticut to London and Cornwall, where friends from the teenage past resurface. Pretty soon the reader is thinking: there’s more than one mystery here, but Jill has only noticed the missing boyfriend. Most satisfyingly, you have to wait but you get the answer to that other mystery too, along with the emotional truth which as a teenager she did not question.
As for the missing BF – he resurfaces too. He still has wonderfully kind green eyes. Jill does what probably 99% of us would, given the chance.
This book is very good about female friendship, about kindness, about the shore and the store and the pressures of only-just-earning-a-living. (The scene where Jill goes head to head with a loathesome client had me punching the air in pure wish fulfilment. Yay!) Jill is a practical, up-beat funny woman and you are delighted to spend time with her first person narrative. She can dream, she can be sad, but basically, she’s a problem solver with a heart, who just happens to be what my grandmother would have called A Bad Picker.
But do not worry, Bad Picker though she is, a true hero is there. You recognise him because he does things for her that will warm the heart of every woman, well every woman I know, anyway. Read the book and find out.
DECLARATION OF INTEREST I’d never heard of Maggie Dana until I picked up this book. So this author is a complete stranger to me, too.