I’m really delighted today to be sharing my review of Different Genes by Claire Baldry, published by Matador, and available for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to Emily at Troubadour Publishing for the e-copy she provided for my review. Claire really has really become quite a celebrity recently – you might have read my feature about her exciting initiative, Books for Older Readers, and it was a real pleasure to hear her (together with Christine Webber and Phoebe Morgan) on BBC Radio London this week, further spreading the word (if you’d like to hear it too, you’ll find the interview here – just 20 minutes long). But Claire’s debut novel had caught my eye – and my imagination – before all the recent activity…
Sixty-one year old Louise finally learns she is adopted after the death of her mother. She embarks on a quest to reveal the secrets of her past, helped by new companion and lover, Simon, whom she meets after joining an Internet dating site.
In her first full-length novel, author Claire Baldry sensitively explores the growing closeness between the newly retired couple as they develop their mutual understanding and physical relationship.
The reader is reminded of the changing values of the postwar years, while Simon and Louise visit places from Louise’s past and meet people who knew her mother and grandmother. Together, they begin to unlock the forgotten secrets of Louise’s past – but in the face of so much change and uncertainty, can Louise let her relationship flourish?
The story is set mainly in the author’s home county of East Sussex, but finishes in Kent, when Louise and Simon finally visit her birth mother’s grave at a convent in Chatham. This immensely readable journey of discovery is a charming and bittersweet mixture of romance, sadness and genuine suspense.
And I’m sure you can see why this book had immediate appeal for me – remember that little fanfare I always hear when I encounter an older heroine? And this book really didn’t disappoint at all – it’s a gentle, tender and very real later-life love story, with two extremely likeable and beautifully drawn main characters. I very much liked the way Louise’s big secret was revealed early in the book – a chance encounter, really well done – and the way the story then unfolded, the history slowly uncovered and the consequences worked through.
And the book’s a great deal more than just the story of the relationship between Louise and Simon – as the history is revealed, it’s a story filled with great sadness, shaped by the moral standards of the time in which it’s set, and a fascinating exploration of past lives. The story of Louise’s birth mother is shocking and heart-breaking, along with her own childhood experiences – and I really liked the way the tension and drama built, the little touches like Louise’s nightmares and need for light at night-time, the intruder in the bungalow, the use of photographs. The supportive relationship that builds between Simon and Louise is beautifully handled, as they work together to untangle the many secrets of the past – a developing love story, but also a real warmth in the partnership as it builds. In the back story, I particularly enjoyed that recognition of common experience that comes when you’re of a similar age to the main characters – Louise’s university days brought back the feelings I still remember so well, that awkwardness of finding your place and making new friendships, perfectly done.
I liked the author’s writing style – simple, straightforward, easy to read, excellent characters and a well-described setting, realistic dialogue, well-judged touches of lightness and humour – and this was a book I looked forward to picking up every time I did so. I think it’s fair to mention though that I did sometimes feel a little emotionally detached as the back story was being revealed – there were times when I might have liked to be a little more in the centre of the action, to feel what was happening rather than being told about it, perhaps with different voices brought into play. The histories of the characters – told almost as self-contained stories – sometimes interrupted the flow of the story a little, pulled me away from the line I wanted to follow. But that’s a minor criticism, and maybe more to do with my personal preference.
I enjoyed this book very much – a really absorbing read, two characters coming to terms with their pasts to move forward with an exceptional authenticity to their developing relationship, and it was a real joy to read a story that reflected so well a shared life experience.
About the author
Claire Baldry retired from her career as a Headteacher and English Advisor in 2008. She is now an established writer, blogger, performance poet and public speaker in her home county of East Sussex. Find out more at www.clairebaldry.co.uk: you can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.