I’m really delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of My Daughter’s Wedding, the second novel by Claire Baldry: published by Matador, this lovely book is available for kindle, and the paperback was released yesterday (28th July). My thanks to Claire for the advance reading e-copy, and for inviting me to join the tour.
It’s ben a pleasure to feature Claire on Being Anne on a few occasions now: as part of my feature on Books for Older Readers (Claire’s the founder and powerhouse behind it – you’ll find the article here); as a poet with her collection Simply Modern Life (you’ll find a guest post here, and a review and sample here); and with my review of her first novel, Different Genes (review here). Claire’s first novel had immediate appeal for me, with its lovely second chance love story and beautifully drawn older characters – so I was very much looking forward to reading her latest…
When ‘bride to be’ and single parent, Charlotte, discovers that her 61-year-old widowed mother is in a new relationship, she struggles to come to terms with it. “Why do you need to have a man, at your age?” Charlotte asks, “Can’t you just be a grandma?”
The growing tension between mother and daughter combined with preparations for the wedding impact on both family and friends. In this compelling and unashamedly romantic tale of finding love in later life, the experience of a young care-leaver who is tasked with making the wedding bouquet, is skilfully intertwined with the family’s – sometimes turbulent – preparations for a modern wedding.
Just sometimes, you can tell from the opening pages when you’re reading a book that you’re going to enjoy – an exchange between mother Angie and her slightly abrasive and demanding adult daughter Charlotte, her assertion that “I am not old yet, I have a right to my own life” – and I happily allowed myself to relax into the story. Angie was so very lovely, extremely likeable and easy to identify with: I loved her friendship with Alison – the author writes excellent, really natural, dialogue – and I then watched with delight as she met Martin at her Uncle Jack’s funeral and the relationship slowly developed. I very much liked the insights into the lives and thoughts of both characters, and their very different relationships with their families – Martin’s easy one with daughter Jessica, as she encourages his new relationship, Angie’s with daughter Charlotte rather more fraught.
When I reviewed Different Genes, I said it was “a gentle, tender and very real later-life love story, with two extremely likeable and beautifully drawn main characters”. It might be a tad lazy of me, but I can say exactly the same about this one. There’s an absolute authenticity about the characters, their hopes and fears – their questions about earlier relationships, their different lifestyles, their financial divide, their growing ease with each other, their feelings as they develop, their concerns about intimacy. I particularly liked the telephone calls as they got to know each other – feeling their way, slowly relaxing into their relationship, privately expressing their doubts and fears.
But a relationship is invariably about more than just two people, and I liked the way the family relationships were portrayed. Angie’s daughter, at first, is quite insufferable – her mother’s relationship affects her life and childcare plans, and she demonstrates totally unreasonable selfishness when her mother wants to be more than “just a grandma”, expecting her to “show a bit of dignity”. Six year old grandson Joe is a lovely little character – heaven knows how, with his unbearable mother! – and I particularly liked the way he bonded with Martin over successive visits (even if the initial attraction was his little red Fiat!). The friendship with Alison was well handled too, with an unexpectedly poignant story unfolding – and I loved her exchanges with Angie at every point in her difficult journey.
And then, in the second part of the book, the focus changes – and it’s not just a shift in perspective, it’s an entirely separate and rather darker story of the life of Carly, at first a child in care, then as a fugitive from domestic violence and her attempts to rebuild her life thereafter. I’ll admit that I did feel rather wrenched from the story I’d been enjoying, but I did quickly become immersed in Carly’s life – and began to cheer every small victory as I grew to know her, and admire her resilience and resourcefulness. The third part of the book returns to the original story, and the approaching daughter’s wedding of the title – and the two stories are very cleverly drawn together, with a particular originality in the part played by both weddings and funerals.
I’ve mentioned the wrench, but I actually think the book’s structure works really well – I might have preferred a slightly softer transition, but the whole was a read I really enjoyed. And I must mention another element of the story I loved, its vivid sense of place. Bexhill, Hastings and their surroundings are unknown territory for me, but I felt like I’d had a rather lovely holiday – the descriptions are just wonderful, the restaurants and the markets, the geography and the attractions, the detail drawn with care but never intruding, just enhancing the backdrop for the story. And there were other lovely bits of detail too – the flowers, the main characters’ homes – and some really well drawn minor characters, particularly Angie’s rather intrusive neighbour as a source of both humour and concern.
I really like the author’s writing – her style is straightforward and easy to read, her dialogue a particular strength, the developing romance and other emotional content beautifully handled, the pacing excellent, and there are some lovely touches of lightness and humour. And I particularly like the authenticity with which she captures and portrays the thoughts, feelings and experiences of her older characters – very real, and quite superbly done. Highly recommended by me.
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.