When I heard that Linda MacDonald was arranging a blog tour for two of her books – A Meeting of a Different Kind and The Alone Alternative – with Random Things Tours, I was absolutely delighted. I loved her fourth book, The Man in the Needlecord Jacket, so very much – you’ll find my review here – and then went back to read Meeting Lydia, her first book, and thoroughly enjoyed that one too (review here). It’s no way to read a series, but I’d really wanted the excuse/opportunity to read her other two books – they’d been on my kindle (my own purchased copies) for far too long. And do you know what? It came as no surprise that I absolutely loved these two books too.
When archaeologist Edward Harvey’s wife Felicity inherits almost a million, she gives up her job, buys a restaurant and, as a devotee of Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall, starts turning their home into a small eco-farm. Edward is not happy, not least because she seems to be losing interest in him. Taryn is a borderline manic-depressive, a scheming minx, a seductress and user of men. Edward and Taryn don’t know each other but they both know Marianne.
To Edward, Marianne is a former classmate who sends him crazy emails. She is Taryn’s best friend, and when Marianne meets Edward, she tells Taryn how wonderful he is and that he is not the philandering type. Taryn sees a challenge and concocts a devious plan to meet him during a series of lectures he is giving at the British Museum. When Edward and Taryn’s paths cross, questions of friendship, loyalty and betrayal are played out against a backdrop of mental fragility and the destabilising effects of a large inheritance…
Set in Broadclyst and Beckenham, with a chapter on the Isles of Scilly, A Meeting of a Different Kind is the stand-alone sequel to Meeting Lydia, continuing the story from the perspectives of two very different characters. Like its prequel, it will appeal to fans of adult fiction, especially those interested in the psychology of relationships.
Having read the author’s four books in an entirely different order than she intended, I have to say that it didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. I knew the outcomes for the key characters, but I’d been very much looking forward to discovering how they arrived there – and the pleasure was doubled by following their journey. Every one of these books is complete in itself, with a start, middle and end that would allow you to pick up any one on its own and enjoy the experience. But there’s a unique pleasure in being able to involve yourself in the lives of a set of characters through a sequence of books, to allow yourself to become invested in their experiences, to share their joys and agonies, to allow yourself to identify with their steps towards an uncertain future.
While this book is perhaps mainly Edward’s story, the way it was told reminded me of the many reasons why I’ve become such a fan of Linda Macdonald’s writing. In part, it’s a portrait of a marriage falling apart through neglect and disinterest – wife Felicity’s plans for her inheritance and Edward’s failure to share her obsession slowly widening the divide between them. And there, in an initially distant supporting role, is Marianne – a sounding board for Edward’s thoughts, feelings and life choices, while sharing her own. Their attraction – once they finally meet – is palpable, their friendship and developing relationship fragile and tentative, moving forward with exquisite slowness constrained by their separate lives, their respective marriages and their family responsibilities. Their dance around each other is quite beautifully choreographed, intricately detailed and analysed, their characters and their emotional reactions authentic and perfectly drawn. The ability of the author to take you inside her characters is exceptional – sharing their thoughts, feeling their doubts and emotions, identifying with situations that are wholly recognisable and vividly real.
I must mention Taryn, Marianne’s “friend” – but hers is a rather unusual take on what friendship requires and entails. Despite her behaviour and its impact, I found the complexity of her character both intriguing and fascinating. There can sometimes be an inclination to draw an antagonist with less depth, with a focus on action rather than motivation. Her issues become plain, with a detailed insight into the hard-edged fragility that drives her – and I really liked the way the author explored her feelings after the event along with the personal resonance of her actions. I might not have liked her (and that has to be something of an understatement), but I very much liked the exploration of her character.
The writing is wonderful – relationships and feelings examined and analysed, but in a way that only adds to your emotional engagement with the characters, with a perfect balance between darkness and light and more than a touch of well-handled drama. I finished reading – and this book does end, and requires nothing more – and I was already looking forward to reading its sequel The Alone Alternative. I just wanted to spend more time with characters who had moved me and won my heart.
Former classmates Edward and Marianne, now fifty-five, have experienced a turbulent few years having lost contact with each other and suffered painful disruption to their home lives. Reunited again, this time through Twitter, they set about a search for personal fulfilment, but once again there are obstacles in the way – not least in the form of twice-widowed Jessica, Edward’s neighbour, who threatens to destroy their pursuit of happiness and whose behaviour has alarming consequences.
The extraordinary weather conditions prompt Edward and a former colleague to resurrect an idea for a documentary series that sets to challenge consumerist lifestyles. The Isles of Scilly become a model for sustainability and a filming trip to the islands provides an idyllic backdrop to the unfolding romantic tensions. Set in 2012, the year of the London Olympics, the action alternates between Broadclyst and Beckenham and examines the difficult issues faced in committing to a new relationship in midlife. Could being alone be a preferable alternative?
Continuing themes of psychology, relationships and environmental sustainability, The Alone Alternative is the sequel to A Meeting of a Different Kind and the third and final part of the ‘Lydia’ series. Written from both male and female perspectives, it also stands alone as a fascinating read for both men and women who enjoy thought-provoking fiction, keeping readers guessing until the very end.
With this book, we move forward in time – with much having happened in the lives of both Edward and Marianne, the resumption of their friendship via Twitter and email, and decisions to made about their paths into the future. This might be the shorter review, but of all the books, I think this may have been the one I enjoyed the most.
The progression of their relationship, with the possibility of a happy ending for them both, had an authenticity I could completely identify with and really feel. By the time you reach the late summer of life, so much personal baggage has accumulated that the prospect of change can be terrifying – and as Edward and Marianne explore their options, advancing by a few steps then repeatedly faltering, continually questioning their choices, this was an immensely engaging read. I really liked the way that – when the personal side becomes too difficult to contemplate, and “alone” might seem the easier option – they sometimes retreat behind their shared passion for environmental issues, and I found that whole theme and the project they were involved in totally fascinating.
I must mention the way the book is written. This time, the author takes us inside both Edward and Marianne, exploring their day to day lives and reflections as they slowly make their decisions. Does that make it sound rather earnest? It emphatically isn’t – there’s an immense warmth about this book, a gentle humour that can’t help but make you smile (repeatedly, and broadly), moments of real drama and tension and others of sheer unbridled joy. Digging into the detail, I particularly enjoyed the family relationships – such well developed supporting characters – and their reactions to developments in the lives of Edward and Marianne. Edward’s naivety and gentleness makes him a tremendously likeable character – I particularly loved his naivety around the fact that he could be a covetable prospect for the “coven”, and a target for some particularly unwelcome attention, leading to unexpected and very well handled drama with an edge of real danger.
And I very much liked this book’s exceptional sense of place – Edward’s family home at Broadclyst, Marianne’s life in Beckenham, the Scilly Isles as both a model for sustainability and the vividly described backdrop for some of the book’s key moments. The author’s descriptive powers are breath-taking – her descriptions draw in the emotions her characters are feeling, and are immensely powerful. I really should have marked a few of the passages that spoke to me at that deep emotional level, but I was enjoying the whole reading experience far too much. But when Edward and Marianne “breathe the salty air and gaze across the beginnings of the wide Atlantic to an ocean of unseen delights”, my heart sang for them. This was a book I really loved.
I must mention that – for the duration of the blog tour – these books are available at a reduced price of 99p each for kindle. Do give them a try…
About the author
Linda MacDonald is the author of four novels: Meeting Lydia and the stand-alone sequels, A Meeting of a Different Kind, The Alone Alternative and The Man in the Needlecord Jacket. All Linda’s books are contemporary adult fiction, multi-themed, but with a focus on relationship issues.
After studying psychology at Goldsmiths’, Linda trained as a secondary science and biology teacher. She taught these subjects for several years before moving to a sixth-form college to teach psychology. The first two novels took ten years in writing and publishing, using snatched moments in the evenings, weekends and holidays. In 2012, she gave up teaching to focus fully on writing.
Linda was born and brought up in Cockermouth, Cumbria and now lives in Beckenham in Kent.