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by Clare Woodward

Open Book

Review by Timothy Mark

This is an account of the developing relationship between Heather, a divorcee whose husband has deserted her for a younger woman, and Gavin, whose marriage has broken down largely due to the tragic accidental death of his three-year old son. As the story proceeds details of their respective pasts are gradually revealed. Hugh, Heather's former husband, is portrayed as a hard, unbending character who continues to intrude into Heather's life by the arrangement of looking after their son at weekends. Hugh resents the presence of Heather's new lover. Gavin feels largely responsible for the death of his son and suffers a deep and lasting sense of guilt which at one point contributes to his attempted suicide. Heather continues to feel hurt and distress from the trauma of her desertion and ultimate divorce. Each feels vulnerable and hesitant about entering into a new relationship. But from the first of many sexual encounters the relationship moves inexorably from friendship and companionship to a deep sense of mutual love expressed in the eventual birth of their child as the novel reaches its conclusion. There are some valuable insights: the discussion of the death of a child notes the different responses from the mother and the father; the recognition that a woman cradling a man in her arms can think of the man as a substitute child; and the knowledge that a man's vulnerability can be a point of attraction to a woman. The portrayal throughout the novel of Heather's protective relationship with Greg, her son, also provides an authentic note.

It must be admitted that in this long drawn-out tale the reader is presented eventually with two self-evident truths about a woman's psychology, namely, that when faced with a man in desperate need, the woman (a) will always take responsibility, and (b) will offer appropriate nurture and care. Whether the reader accepts this conclusion is a moot point. However, by the end of the narrative it becomes clear that the author believes that care and nurture are a responsibility for both the woman and the man in any mature and lasting relationship. In this regard one is reminded of the insight of C S Lewis "that all need loves are also gift loves". A positive strength of this tender description of the developing love between Heather and Gavin, therefore, is that it offers hope to those who have suffered broken relationships. The trauma of past experience can be transcended. Mutual trust can facilitate self-disclosure. New, deep and mature relationships are possible.

Nonetheless, I confess that this was not the most exciting of stories! The plot is almost non-existent. The prose is impeccable but alas generally dull. The style is ponderous with most of the descriptions given in a detached third person account from the point of view of Heather. Occasionally some first person dialogue provides light relief! A good point is that the text and punctuation are entirely devoid of errors.

I was hoping to discover something about "what women do" that was new and arresting. Alas, I confess I was disappointed!


ISBN 1 58939 276 0
Published by, 2003
259pp, e-book
Retail price $6.95

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