Sunday, January 22, 2006

Family Baggage by Monica McInerney

Harriet Turner knows all about journeys. After all, she’s arranged hundreds of them for the travel agency her family runs in the Australian coastal town of Merryn Bay. But when her work colleague and foster sister Lara disappears on the eve of a big overseas trip, Harriet finds herself in uncharted territory.

Left alone in England with a coachload of eccentric tourists on a themed tour of locations from the Willoughby TV detective series, Harriet has her hands full. But as the bus trundles through the picturesque Cornwall countryside, the tour becomes another kind of journey for her. She finds herself facing big questions about her family and her childhood; about her feelings for the guest of honour on the tour, star of Willoughby, Patrick Shawcross – and the biggest puzzle of all: what has happened to Lara?

Monica McInerney is probably Australia's version of Maeve Binchy. The fact that she is an Irish-Australian author makes that a very easy comparison to make, however, she writes stories that are full of charm and wit, without being too sickly sentimental, although occasionally it is a very fine line! This book was nominated as an A Great Read by one of the women's magazines here, and it was easy to see why. Whilst the book was over 500 pages long, it didn't actually feel that long once you got past the first 100 or so pages.

For those first 100 pages or so though, I actually didn't think that I was going to like this book. There were so many loose threads that were going to need to be tied together. This tour of England that Harriet had been called in to do at the last minute is her first tour since the last disastrous tour where Harriet had had a nervous breakdown, bought on by the deaths of both of her parents, separately, not too long before. Her foster sister Lara was supposed to meet her at the airport but hadn't shown up, the guest of honour thought he was doing an interview not a four day tour with a group of elderly but very enthusiastic fans. Meanwhile back in Australia, her brother James was in hospital, his wife Melissa was busy upsetting everyone, her 16 year old niece Molly was contemplating having sex with her much older swimming coach, and friend of the family Gloria had kept a huge secret for 24 years and had had just about enough.

There were points where I wondered how there would be any kind of congruency within the various threads to tie them tegether neatly, but the author managed it quite nicely in the end. I will say that there were not really many surprises - most of the events in the book were signposted from pages away, but overall it was a satisfying and emotionally involving read.

I read The Alphabet Sisters by the same author last year and probably enjoyed that more, but this was certainly an entertaining enough read. Family Baggage will be released in the US in July of this year.

Rating 4/5

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