“The thought of going through it all again is overwhelming. Finding a new anonymous home, finding a new job where the boss won’t ask too many questions, remembering to answer to a new, made-up name. I don’t even know if I have the strength to pull it off a second time, and anyway, how many more times would it take?”
I thought I’d found a book about a woman who had fled an abusive husband, and who feared that her husband had caught up to her. I had, but the story that unfolded had far more to it than that.
There was a small market town: an insular town where people were quick to judge, where they clung to tradition, where outsiders and new ideas were resented.
And there was a newcomer: a bright, ambitious reporter sent to the town after a campaign to get more publicity for the town’s annual mediaeval fair.
The bright reporter and the downtrodden wife became friends. Real friends. Maura stood up for Kim when she made waves in the town, when she reported the negative news as well as the positive. And Kim took steps to rebuild Maura’s self-esteem, taking her on as an assistant, and encouraging her to take steps towards a more independent lifestyle.
Maura’s husband wasn’t happy with her. The great and the good of the town weren’t happy with Kim. And when things went badly at the annual fair – bad weather and bad publicity – things boiled over. On the final day there was a terrible tragedy. Maura felt responsible, and she fled.
But five years later a journalist found her, and she realised that she had to talk about the past, deal with the past, and look to the future.
Bea Davenport tells this story very effectively. The narrative moves quite naturally between Maura’s story in the past and her telling of it in the present. And the prologue explained enough of what had happened that I could concentrate on exactly how events had unfolded without wondering who, where , when …. that brought the heart of the story into sharp focus.
It was a compelling story, simply and clearly told. The characters were real and believable, and their dialogues, their reactions, their behaviour rang true.
There were times when I found both Maura and Kim maddening. Maura should have, could have, left her husband much sooner. And Kim might have been more sensitive to the feelings of others, more aware that certain of her actions would have consequences. But at the same time, I accepted who they were – and how difficult Maura’s situation was – I saw that they were real, complex, fallible human beings.
The character of Maura’s husband was drawn with wonderful clarity and subtlety, and that made his actions all the more shocking.
Everything worked together, making a compelling human drama.
It wasn’t quite perfect – the town was a little too mediaeval, some pieces of the story fell into place a little too easily – but the story worked. It rang true psychologically. I cared about Maura, and what would become of her. I wanted to know.
I turned the pages very quickly, and I stayed up and went on reading much later than I had planned.