Drowning Rose by Marika Cobbold

“What do you say to a man whose life you destroyed?”

Eliza believes that she destroyed the life of Ian, her godfather. Rose, her best friend and Ian’s daughter, drowned at a party when the two were schoolgirls. Eliza feels responsible.

Twenty-five years later Eliza has become an expert in the restoration of porcelain, working for the V & A and undertaking private commissions. But she hasn’t managed to put her life back together, after the death of Rose, after a painful separation from her husband.

Ian calls her. He is an old man, a dying man, and he wants to make amends for his harsh treatment of Eliza after his daughter’s death. He shows great generosity and Eliza is torn, between the feelings of guilt and unworthiness that have come to the surface and the wish to make amends to the man she believes she wronged.

The story moves between past and present.

It tells of life at boarding school, of the friendship of three privileged girls, of another girl who wanted to be their friend but couldn’t break into their circle, and, finally, of the events leading up to Rose’s death.

And it tells of Eliza’s life in London, her visits to her godfather, her relationship with her ex-husband, her efforts to support her troubled stepsister.

Marika Cobbold writes of all this quite beautifully, balancing serious themes with warmth, compassion and occasional, perfectly judged, flashes of humour.

I was captivated. By complex, utterly believable characters in intriguing situations. I believed, and I wanted to know what happened.

Drowning Rose worked as a human story and as a study of the damage that feelings of guilt and regret can do.

It was wonderfully readable, and held me right to the end.

Aphrodite’s Workshop for Reluctant Lovers by Marika Cobbold

It’s lovely to be given a book unexpectedly, but it’s worrying too. You know someone has taken some trouble to select something, but it is so easy to get it wrong, and then what do you say.

It took my fiance a while to learn what I liked – he presented me with some horrors before he got a handle on my taste!

But this book came from Alice at Bloomsbury as a Valentine’s gift. I trust her taste, and the book came accompanied by some lovely chocolate which created any amount of goodwill.

When I saw the prologue though I was a little worried. God on Mount Olympus overseeing the affairs of men. Was it cliché time?

“Life was getting tough for mother, otherwise known as Aphrodite, goddess of love. It was commonly thought that she was failing in her work and that love was being brought into disrepute. The inhabitants of Great Britain were of particular concern. The statistics were appalling, with one in three marriages ending in divorce and a growing number of children being brought up in single-parent families. so mother was freaking, blaming me, Eros, who quite frankly had enough to deal with, being just a kid and going through a difficult phase, not just because of the confusion over who my father was but also because of the rumours going around that I didn’t actually exist, being a phenomenon, an idea, not a person at all.”

No actually, it wasn’t. The treatment felt fresh, with Aphrodite and son Eros caught up in the machinations of a family business dropping in and out of the story, observing and trying to steer events.

Rebecca Finch was the main cause of Aphrodite’s problems. A romantic novelist who is having doubts about love – and when I met her soon to be ex boyfriend I understood why. I liked Rebecca, but she had an unfortunate tendency to say a little too much, to be a little too honest. And that had some rather unfortunate consequences.

So Aphrodite had to put things to rights. And she steered Rebecca towards a man she had crossed paths with years before. John Sterling. He wasn’t an obvious romantic hero – a divorce lawyer, a divorced weekend father, a basically decent man who had made a few mistakes and probably needed a good friend to have a firm word and point him in the right direction. I did like him though.

Rebecca and John are both wonderfull believable, and their stories are told with warmth, wit and honesty. Along the way Marika Cobbold makes some wonderful observations about love, life and romantic fiction.

I have to say though that I could have done without Rebecca’s reappearing childhood imaginary friend. Gods plus a great supporting cast were more than enough to fill out the story. There was even a border terrier!

It was simple story, but well executed, and packed full of wonderful observations and striking moments.

Not a book I would have chosen, but a book I liked very much. And isn’t that a lovely thing to be able to say about a gift?