I’m really delighted today to be joining the blog tour and sharing my review of Jigsaw Island by Lynne McVernon: published on 6th July, it’s now available both for kindle and in paperback. My thanks to Anne Cater at Random Things Tours for the invitation and support, and to the author for my early reading e-copy.
For many of the bloggers on this tour, this will be their first time reading a book from Lynne – but not for me, instead it’s an opportunity to read a book from a lady I’m delighted to call a friend. We’ve remained in touch since I read and reviewed her debut, Terrible With Raisins, back in August 2016 (recently republished with a striking new cover) – you’ll find that review here, together with a rather lovely interview. It’s been quite a wait, but I was really looking forward to reading Lynne’s writing again – and hopefully, this time, she’ll be reaching a wider audience. And this book was certainly well worth waiting for…
On a holiday escape to the Greek islands, Annie Buchanan discovers what – and then who – is missing from her life…
When single mother, Annie, and son Jude take a break away from Scotland to stay with her brother and friends on Symi, they find the warmth and support they need. As they ease into the relaxed rhythm of island life, old and new acquaintances change the course of their vacation.
Whether it’s for better or worse, Annie will discover when she visits the island of Leros. There she may be able to put together some of the missing pieces in her life and learn who her friends really are. But she cannot be prepared for some uncomfortable truths about the past and the dramatic way in which they will change the present for her… and Jude.
From the moment I began to read, I remembered how much I’d previously enjoyed Lynne McVernon’s writing, when I first discovered Clair and her diva daughter Jess. This is a sequel of sorts, and an opportunity to meet again some of those distinctive characters – but entirely self-contained, and 100% readable as a standalone. This is Annie Buchanan’s story – and what a story it is.
This book drew me in from the very first page, and kept me in its grip throughout the first part as we discover Annie’s life now, and her rather special relationship with son Jude. Her first person stream of consciousness takes us back in time to her teenage discovery that she was adopted, her flight to London from her Scottish home, and the experiences that shaped her. It’s quite a story, a naive and unworldly young girl who struggles to survive, confusing kindness with other things rather less savoury, suffers some quite appalling experiences – and returns home, her life entirely changed by her adventure. The writing is quite excellent, both in allowing us to see everything through Annie’s eyes, and through the extraordinarily vivid depiction of the realities of life on the streets.
And then, another flight – a real one this time to the island of Symi, with her son Jude, home to her brother Fraser (and Clair and Jess). The island paradise is perfectly evoked – its beauty, its blue skies and sunshine, the warmth of its characters – but the influx of both tourists and refugees has deeply changed the dynamic of the islands. The damage wrought by Annie’s experience is mirrored by the stories of those fleeing for their lives, the real kindness of those who offer their support – with glimpses of the way in which such experiences can shape the future. I was shamefully unaware of the situation affecting the islands and its people – the way the story unfolds in its second part certainly opened my eyes to that, as Annie travels on to Leros and shares significant parts of both its past and present.
And then, in the book’s final third, the whole story takes an entirely unexpected turn and verges on a psychological thriller – although the clues were there throughout had I chosen to pick up on them. Tension, pursuit, putting all the pieces together, seeing things clearly – the pacing is perfect, the emotional content so well drawn. Viewed from above, Leros looks like a piece from a jigsaw – and it proves to be where some of life’s complexities achieve resolution and the big picture is finally completed.
Am I making the book feel a little on the heavy side? Despite its content, it most certainly isn’t – the humour is always present, with the author’s clear affection for Annie and her sometimes questionable choices shining through. That same feeling of affection applies to Fraser too – he sometimes takes up the narrative, and I enjoyed his voice every bit as much as Annie’s. There’s a focus on friends and the complexities of family that I enjoyed, a number of other well-handled themes around alienation and belonging, even a touch of romance – this was a book that really worked, and I found it moving, thought-provoking and engaging.
Do read Alaa’s real-life story at the book’s end – it’s a postscript of sorts, but also a perfect prompt for discussion of the desperate plight of refugees, and the need for both action and compassion. Quite a book – and one I enjoyed very much, and would recommend most highly.
About the author
Lynne’s writing career got off to a precocious start when, aged eight, she was commended for a short story by head teacher, Mr Barker, a success crowned by winning threepence, less than 1p today, for spelling ‘sphere’. Thereafter, it all went downhill. At nine, she sent a short story to The Evening Standard. It was rejected. At ten, she entered BBC Children’s TV Write A Play competition. Got nowhere.
After fifteen years, following art school, university, a trainee directors’ bursary, and with a lot of stage sweeping and making tea for actors along the way, she (partially) recognised defeat and became a theatre director, directing a range of plays from Dario Fo to Shakespeare. Still unable to let go of the compulsion to write and, inspired by Mike Leigh, she produced many devised, co-written and self-penned productions. She also taught at drama schools, dramatised 3 Dickens novels for the stage, adapted classics for BBC Radio and founded a young people’s creative writing company, Fable Productions.
Her first novel, Terrible With Raisins, was self-published in 2013; Jigsaw Island is her second. Both books were inspired by the endlessly captivating Dodecanese Islands and their people.