Second Time Around

by Marcia Willett

‘But how do you define happiness?’ she heard Mathilda asking. ‘Do you mean joy? Or do you mean contentment? If you mean some kind of ephemeral excitement bound up with physical gratification, then I must reject your values.’…

And did you find happiness?’ ‘No. But it was worth trying for, surely?’ Isobel looked out over the dazzling brilliance of the sea, hearing Mathilda’s voice in reply. ‘That rather depends on what you lost in the attempt.’

I am so glad I gave Marcia Willett a try. She reminds me of Rosamunde Pilcher, who is one of my favorite authors. Like Pilcher, or another favorite, D.E. Stevenson, she is not an author to read if you like a lot of action, situations, or chatty funny dialogue. If you race through books because you can’t wait to read what happens next, this book is not for you. (Hey I like books like that too sometimes!) But if you like to read thoughtful and sometimes tender writing, if you like to get to know the characters like friends with all of their layers and complexities, if you like to be dropped into a whole world described in detail and like to linger on a sentence or a paragraph sometimes, you might want to give this book a try.

It centers around 4 strangers who have been disappointed in their lives in some way who come together to share an inheritance through the death of a 5th person, Mathilda, whom we also come to know and care about as well. The book seems to center mostly on Isabelle, her friend, tenant, and housekeeper, with the other players each having their own interesting journeys and second chances. Isabelle is a 40-something woman who, bored and vaguely disappointed in her marriage cheats on her perfectly nice and loving husband and by proxy her young teenage daughter. When she regains her sanity she fully expects to be welcomed back to her little family. She is sorely disappointed.

‘What did you expect?’ asked her daughter. ‘Did you expect him to fall on his knees and kiss your feet?’ ‘No,’ said Isobel wearily—but she knew that she had expected just that.

I was struck by the fact that Marcia does not make a blameless, sweet woman who has done no wrong one of her main protagonists. That role is filled by Tessa. She is a young woman who was left an orphan at an early age and who has always longed for a home and family. She has nurtured a lifelong crush on one of the sons of a family who is close to her. When he impulsively proposes to her, of course she gratefully accepts. Is this her dream come true at last?

The other two main characters are Bea and Will. Bea is the matron (or headmistress) of a boys school who, when she retires, finds she has not only lost her position but her home and very identity. And that she has lost them forever. Because you can’t go home again, can you?

At first her old friends had greeted her welcomingly and with affection but, when they realised that she was not just on a visit but had rented a flat in the town, their reactions altered. There was a certain raising of eyebrows which indicated surprise and, in some cases, faint disapproval…On the odd occasions when she’d popped into the school for a chat there had been an undercurrent of suspicion; a ‘What’s she doing here?’ atmosphere which had made her feel uncomfortable…she realised how important her job had been. It had given her status, a title and a position within the community. Now she was no one; Matron no longer, nobody’s mother or wife or child or aunt, just Bea.

Will is an attractive middle-aged widower who, longing for the love and home he did not find with his late wife, quickly falls in love with one of new friends and mutual beneficiaries.

His life had been a quiet one, his administrative work unexciting—rather like his marriage. His Swiss wife had been older than he but he had been attracted by her calm blonde beauty, her smiling good-natured charm. Later—too late—he had discovered that her calm good nature masked an unthinking indifference to life but Will was a loyal man and no one, least of all Bierta, guessed at his disappointment.

Yes, by the end they all get their second chances and paths to happy futures. (Whilst tangling with a scoundrel of an antique dealer). But not in the way you might expect. Necessarily. It is a restful book and yes, I could put it down. But I always looked forward to picking it up again. I am already trying to decide which Marcia Willet is next for me. I am happy there are so many to choose from. **4 out of 5 stars**

April 16, 2021

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