I am a long time fan of Elizabeth Buchan's novels, tales of everyday contemporary life thrown into confusion by an external event. Her signature styleI am a long time fan of Elizabeth Buchan's novels, tales of everyday contemporary life thrown into confusion by an external event. Her signature style is intelligent, subtle and profound, with a light touch on her action thread, in contrast to an underlying seam of psychological insight and wisdom. This combination makes for highly readable fiction that conveys some profound messages. Reading some of the reviews of Daughters on Amazon, I am very surprised to see a couple of references to the novel as chick lit... Apparently simply because the characters are slim and like nice clothes. For me, this subtle and provocative novel is as far away from chic lit as it is possible to be. The story covers many modern day challenges and dilemmas: raising children and step children to adulthood; the challenges faced by sophisticated, professional young women who want careers and motherhood; soldiers returning from brutal war-zones, and the grief and relief of an empty nest.
Daughters is, for me her best book. Lara and her family are highly functional: attractive, intelligent, having successfully negotiated the breakdown of Lara and Bills marriage.
Behind this facade, everyone is scarred, (as in real life,) whether from the inevitable scars of loss and bereavement, self-imposed scars of consequences realised from mistakes made, or the particularly striking contrast of the physical and mental scars of war veterans. This last was highly accurate (in my experience as the mother of an ex soldier) and it made me curious as to how she had gained such "insider" insights and secrets of soldiers. This mix of experiences conveys a subtle message: there is usually some satisfaction, some emotional pay-off, in addition to the scar, that, in some instances, renders the wound worth the price.
Two events provide the momentum for the action of the plot: the impending marriage of daughter Eve, a bridezilla, and the surprising decision that daughter Maudie makes about her own future.
Underlying this modern tale of people and events is a subtle undertow, exerted on all family members in different ways, centred on the question: what is the truth of why Bill left Lara, to raise three little girls alone? This question creates an eggshell patch all of its own, and the family become adept at tiptoeing carefully around it daily; they start conversations, then back off, or make snippy remarks, or have sudden brief outbursts of truth. What is unsayable, unspeakable? What would happen if it were said aloud? What is the fear? That it can never be recovered from that there will be no retreat back to safe, eggshell free conversation
Wise insights are sprinkled through this novel like white pepper - barely visible except against a dark background but providing piquant depth to the themes being explored. I was delighted to find that Lara's wisdom was inspired by the writings of Dorothy Rowe, one of my favourite writers of psychology.
Buchan draws liberally from her evidently wide knowledge of nature and history to provide rich settings and metaphors. I was especially engaged by the references to the Orca whale, (a topic of great interest to one of the daughters,) and the powerful maternal instinct they display. This served to underscore Lara's selfless dedication to her three daughters, now rapidly approaching its sell by date, as she attempts to pay penance for a long ago moment of selfishness.
Eventually, the secret that broke Lara and Bills marriage is revealed, and finally Lara is able to leave the past behind.
Fictional stories have the power to change people, if the theme resonates, and there is time to reflect. The day after I finished reading this book, whilst on a relaxing holiday, with my 22 year old daughter, over dinner and a glass of wine, I found the courage to speak of a long held personal secret that I believed it would be helpful for my girl to know. Why ever had I not done this before? I woke the next day, free of worry, as Lara was, once that secret is out and the world has not only not imploded, but actually seems a lighter, happier place.
A great book, and I feel particularly indebted to Ms Buchan for its provocation to me....more