Looking Forward

by Marcia Willett

“It had given [Freddie] a kind of fierce satisfaction to reject his faith, to mock at him; yet how little satisfaction he’d given her.
‘I don’t think you care about saving my soul,’ she’d said to him [Theo] once.
‘Your soul is God’s affair, not mine.’ he’d answered ‘It’s not a contest, Freddy. You have free will.’
She’d felt snubbed, considering her soul to be something rather special that God was waiting for with bated breath, as an ornament to add to His glory.”

The book begins with three children waiting alone at a train station for their grandmother to pick them up and take them to their new home, the Keep, in Devon, England. We soon learn that they are orphans. Their parents and beloved older brother have been hideously slaughtered in Africa during the Mau-Mau rebellion. Right away, we are invested in the fates of serious and responsible 10-year-old Fliss and her psychologically damaged 6-year-old brother Sam (Mole.) There is also Susanna who is just a toddler. We come to intimately know their new family: their strong and loving Grandmother, the wise and kind Great Uncle Theo, an Anglican priest, and the two devoted retainers, Ellen and Fox. Later, Caroline is hired to be their Nanny. She quickly becomes an invaluable part of the family circle as well. We soon meet 3 other key characters: their older twin cousins, Hal and Kit (children of their father’s twin brother), and their mother, widowed Aunt Prue, who is good-hearted but rather flighty and silly.

The book is divided into 4 parts, each approximately 3 years apart. Marcia writes poignantly, amusingly, and sometimes beautifully of the lives and relationships, growing pains, love affairs, and dramas of all 3 generations. In her deft characterizations, she often does not take the easy obvious path. Your expectations are set up for one thing to happen, but things don’t go according to the way they might have if the characters were not as kind, smart, and sensitive as they are. Oh, they are flawed. They struggle. There is plenty of heartbreak as well as joy. And the reader is right there with them. We are not on the outside looking in. Marcia Willett is a talented writer.

By the end of the book, two marriages are in the offing, and Mole has gone a long way to gain control of his fears and become a successful adult. Free-spirit Kit is footloose and fancy-free, and Susanna is a charming and popular teenager. We are left a little doubtful about the prospects of Fliss and Hal. There are still some questions as to whether their chosen paths are going to work out. There is still a secret between the two of the seniors. It definitely leaves us anticipating the continuation of the Chadwick’s stories.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

July 2, 2021

The Golden Cup

By Marcia Willett

‘Why?’ she’d asked him once – just as she’d asked her mother. ‘Why did she marry him, Bruno? He’s just … so not Mum. She’s so warm and kind and loving, and he calculates everything. What did she see in him?…

“You could say that he rather swept her off her feet but the fact is, Joss, that nobody can judge a marriage. However close you are to it, you’ll never understand what makes it work or see the million tiny invisible strands that hold a couple together. Emma is very loving and very loyal – to both of you – and it’s not for either of us to judge her.

It’s hard to explain the magic that Marcia Willett weaves. Her books are not funny, witty, or comical. The romance is a slow progression and realization, not a whirlwind of drama, conflict, and sex. There are no life-changing character arcs: People pretty much stay the same decent likable folks they started out as. Or the same weak morally challenged ones. The antagonists aren’t evil villains, and though they threaten the happiness of those we come to love and care about, they are given some nuance and we can at least understand why the good guys put up with them. We want them to be thwarted, but not consigned to hell. Of course, The Golden Cup is only the second book I’ve read by her, so I’m no expert. Her characters are each painted with detail and care. The relationships are complex and not always predictable. She has frequently been compared to Rosamunde Pilcher and the comparison is apt. As has been stated, she creates her world in the same way Rosamunde Pilcher does, with the same lovely-type people where the setting and place are as important as a human character.

This book begins with a beloved and respected elderly woman, the head of her family, on her deathbed. She gets a letter that threatens to expose a life-long secret she has been harboring, along with another family member, for almost three generations. The reader learns the secret through a cache of letters that are read by her likable young granddaughter and main protagonist. And it’s a doozy. I should have guessed it, but didn’t. Maybe because I wasn’t expecting something so big in what started out as a gentle bucolic story about a nice family. Some of the family members we think are kind of just “there” turn out to be key forces and towers of strength.

There is nail-biting suspense and tension, anticipation, wonder, fear, romance, thought proving passages, and surprises. Yes, disaster is averted, and everything works out fine. But there is also melancholy, lost opportunities, and lost love. It’s a deep world of character-building and character reveals and it was a world I was happy to live in with them.

So why not 5 stars? Well, the reading of the letters got a little tedious and repetitive. We know what happened in the end so rehashing the past with so much detail seemed a bit needless.**Spoiler**

The “villains” were dispatched too easily and handily. I would have enjoyed a bit more drama and some confrontation. And maybe even some hope for reclamation wouldn’t have come amiss,**end spoiler**

There were a lot of characters. We are given a lot of names and a brief description, but they don’t ever appear in the story. But you don’t know that so I felt I had to pay attention. I almost started a family tree and a flow chart, but got it straight enough to avoid this. It was a bit exhausting.

This type of book is not for everyone. Some will be bored, or complain that nothing happens. But if you love what Rosamunde Pilcher offers, you will love Marcia Willett. Guaranteed. **4 out of 5 stars**

May 2, 2021

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