Oh, the power of a beautiful book cover! When Ellie Holmes emailed me to ask me to read and review her book, I took one look at the cover and thought “that looks lovely!” Even though, as Ellie herself noted, having acquainted herself with my book blog, this isn’t a genre I read much of, this gorgeous cover, plus her polite, personal approach by email, made me swiftly reply “yes please!” (Conversely, if I’m emailed out of the blue by an author whose book looks beautiful but their attitude is impersonal and unreasonably demanding, I will say no.)
I also liked the blurb on the back with its memorable pearl analogy:
Jessie Martin thinks that when it comes to love there are three types of people: the skimmers, the bottom dwellers and the ones who dive for pearls. Jessie is a pearl diver. She had thought her husband William was a pearl diver too. But when William leaves her for a younger woman, it’s not just Jessie’s heart that is broken, her ability to trust is shattered too…
And so I was hooked. Although it’s quite a long book, I read it in a couple of days, because I was instantly drawn in by the characters and the situation, and I wanted to know how the story turned out.
The Anatomy of a Marriage
It’s an intelligently written, closely observed analysis of the breakdown of the marriage of two successful professionals, morphing into an account of their subsequent relationships, though they’re never as separate as their impending divorce might suggest. Both are lawyers leading privileged lifestyles, working hard for their money at the expense of their relationship.Their daughter, away from home at university, also aspires to be a lawyer, so I guess seeing the impact of the profession on her parents hasn’t put her off!
The Complications of Affluence
At first I found their affluent lifestyles and arguments over vast sums of money, shares, and pension funds a bit off-putting, as my own lifestyle is much more modest. William is able to buy a second house, for example, out of their joint savings – I bet not many readers would be able to do that. However, don’t be put off by this apparent focus on the material, because without giving any plot spoilers, it’s an essential element of the plot for them to be that wealthy. It also makes for a significant contrast between William and Jessie and their new partners, who are both in much humbler jobs.
Other Members of the Cast
Their break-up and its fall-out becomes much more complex than any of those involved expect, and other members of the cast – their daughter and their best friends – are useful foils to the main characters and help drive the plot forward. I especially liked Jessie’s slightly stereotyped best friend, who, though nearing 50, is working her way through a series of men, reminiscent of Patsy in Absolutely Fabulous without the laughs. She provides a fine contrast to Jessie’s more cautious attitude.
The third person narrative changes viewpoint a few times, at first being all about Jessie, then later switching to William then Owen, and purists might object to the headhopping, but it worked just fine for this reader.
An Impressive Debut
The writing is flowing and confident, especially for a debut novel, and the sense of place and seasons is well done. Strangely, although I loved the arresting pearl analogy as outlined in the blurb, it didn’t really mesh that well with the story, in my view – on the occasions when it is mentioned, it came across as self-conscious and conspicuous. In fact, it took me out of the story and back to the blurb to admire the clever phrasing, but interfered with the flow. I think it was one of those darlings that should have been murdered, as the well-known advice to writers goes, lovely as it is.
My only other criticism is the length of the novel. I think it would be better for a slightly tighter approach, and that the pace would benefit from a bit of pruning. But then I don’t read many novels in this category so am not the best judge – maybe her target readers prefer longer books.
Engaging Human Story – More, Please!
But overall, I thought this was a very good read – smart, thoughtful, sensitive, and realistic, about mature, believable people, all flawed in different ways, and very human, but with enough to like about them to keep the reader engaged with their fate.
I will be looking out for more books by Ellie Holmes, as I suspect they’ll be real comfort reads like this one, great to curl up with in front of the fire or on a beach.
For more information about Ellie Holmes, visit her website: