EXCERPT: Unexpectedly my eyes filled with tears. Dad loved and encouraged my early interest in words. He conversed in French with me, discussed the fundamental principles of Esperanto, showed me how to interpret cryptic crosswords and, when I was pretty young, no more than seven, he taught me shorthand. Not the old fashioned Pitman kind he’d learned as a young clerk, which required fountain pens to make the all-important thick and thin line distinctions, but a more modern type called Teeline. He’d picked this up during the early 1970s at journalism evening classes. I had a vague idea that he’d planned to retrain as a journalist. But other than writing articles for the parish magazine, I don’t think this ever came to fruition. At some point in the late 1970s he became a headteacher, which I suppose made teaching seem interesting again.
For a while he and I would communicate in Teeline’s secret code. I remember the thrill of it, of reading something neither of my brothers could understand. As late as my fifteenth birthday, the year he gave me the field glasses – a few weeks before he left us – Dad put a shorthand message in my card. I didn’t remember, now, what it said, but I remembered reading it. The card that came for my sixteenth birthday, the first to come through the post rather than waiting for me on the kitchen table, didn’t contain any secret message.
‘What does it say?’ Jeanie said, craning over to try to look at the page.
‘I’m not sure,’ I lied. ‘I’d have to refresh my memory about how to read it, it’s been such a long time.’
‘This is ridiculous,’ she snapped. ‘She can’t even read them. There’s no reason for Pearl to have these. I can easily get someone to translate them.’
Pointing at the page, Benjy said, ‘Doesn’t this line say, “Wow, my second wife is such a cow”?’ And with that the gloves were finally off.
‘Mr Claymore, do you see what we are up against?’ Jeanie’s face was red with fury. ‘I demand you intervene. These notebooks may contain material that my husband’s former children will exploit.’
‘Former children?’ Benjy said, laughing.
I glanced down at the page again, and read: It would be necessary to keep this . . . then there were several symbols I couldn’t read, followed by I have hidden so much. What the heck was in these diaries?
ABOUT ‘THE WOMAN WHO CAME BACK TO LIFE’: Pearl Flowers lives in a fairytale cottage in the woods in France. Her life is small, strict and safe. Every day is planned: Mondays she takes the middle path through the trees, on Wednesday the right and on Fridays, her special day, she takes the long way into the village. If she makes sure to follow her routine, she can avoid thinking about the past.
But then an unexpected phone call throws everything into chaos: Francis, Pearl’s estranged father, has died and left her a bequest. One she can only claim if she agrees to come to his funeral and see the family she’s been hiding from for so long. But when Pearl begins to read Francis’s diaries, his last gift, she realizes that the truth about her father couldn’t be further from what she expected. That each page is addressed to her, the daughter he loved, causes her to question everything she thought she knew about her past.
Now Pearl must face the world for the first time in many years. Her father was the only person who knew her deepest secret. Is she ready to finally confront the truth of what happened, and take a second chance at happiness now that it is finally within reach?
MY THOUGHTS: You have to love families. They must be the most complex social and interpersonal structure ever. We take umbrage at things said and done by family that we would brush off coming from anyone else. We keep secrets from family, either under the guise of ‘protecting’ them, or because it might change the way they see us. We are probably less truthful with family than with anyone. Well, that’s how this family works.
Pearl’s family is a family shattered by abandonment and secret relationships. After one heartbreak too many, Pearl and husband Denny have taken refuge in their remote holiday home in France, shutting themselves off from the world in general and her family in particular. But her attendance at her father’s funeral in order to collect a mystery bequest opens a whole new can of worms . . . one that is either going to make or break Pearl.
This is a complex but entertaining story. My heart broke for Pearl with each new revelation. But Pearl also has a wicked sense of humor, as does brother Benjy, which shines through occasionally causing me to burst into laughter. There’s a lot of loss and grief in The Woman Who Came Back to Life, but there are also funny moments, and scenes of redemption and hope. My favourite character was Ellie, Pearl’s once best friend who is married to her oldest brother Greg.
The characters, like the relationships between them, are complex. All have baggage, all are aggrieved, hurting in one way or another, and some are angry. The story is told from the points of view of Pearl, and another initially unknown character named Carrie. It takes some time for the connection between these two characters to be revealed, but it’s worth the wait. We also get to read extracts from Francis’ diaries, which puts a whole new slant on things. The story covers the period from 1981 to 2018, but not chronologically. Despite this it is easy to follow, and entertaining, but have a box of tissues handy – it’s heartbreaking in parts.
I love the way that Beth Miller takes situations that any one of us may face at any time and gives them an empathetic and realistic airing.
I: @beth_miller_author @bookouture
T: @drbethmiller @Bookouture
#contemporaryfiction #familydrama #mentalhealth #sliceoflife
THE AUTHOR: Beth Miller has been a sex educator, alcohol counsellor, university lecturer and inept audio-typist. She has a PhD in Psychology, which is yet to come in handy.
DISCLOSURE: Thank you to Bookouture via Netgalley for providing a digital ARC of The Woman Who Came Back to Life by Beth Miller for review. All opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own personal opinions.
For an explanation of my rating system please refer to my Goodreads.com profile page or the about page on sandysbookaday.wordpress.com
This review is also published on Twitter, Amazon, Instagram and Goodreads.com