A haunting introduction from a dying woman commences this story. Isobel has written the story of her life for Bel, her niece, to read. The narrative of the past begins in the thirties, and Isobel’s past life punctuates events in the present day.
Isobel has remained in the same house her entire life while her niece escaped to Australia. Bel’s move to Australia symbolises the freedom of her generation – she could walk on the ‘long stretches of sand’ and feel the sun on her skin.
In contrast Isobel has lived in cold, grey and rainy Glasgow and was inhibited by her morals. But morals seemed to have been loosened, for others, during the uncertainty of war. But a chill of despair runs throughout Isobel’s life.
I admire the emotional parallels between Isobel’s love for Bob and Bel’s stirrings of a new love, as a mature woman,in her sixties. The contrast between Isobel’s innocence and Bel’s experience is moving; there is a beautiful connection in the feelings. I loved Isobel as she wasn’t bitter about her ‘lost chances’. Isobel seems to seek peace in orchestrating new romance for her niece. She tells Bel, ‘I want you to get to know each other.’ The elderly lady intervenes in her niece’s happiness because she neglected her own pursuit of happiness.
The mystery of why Isobel remained alone, intrigues Bel and the reader. Bel’s frustration with her aunt’s passivity, when younger, demonstrates the differences in the generations.
‘Bel couldn’t believe her aunt had been so foolish.’
One does wonder why Isobel denied herself opportunities, but I also felt completely frustrated with Isobel’s love interest, Bob. Bob is also a victim of the era, as he fails to communicate with Isobel. I really wanted to know what was happening inside Bob’s mind, and perhaps this is another novel. Why didn’t Bob speak with Isobel? I was furious with him, at times – but that is the fun of reading.
Despite inhibitions, Isobel does have economic independence through the dress shop. The shop is called ‘Plain and Fancy’, and I wanted to step back in time to visit place. Perhaps, I could have found a fancy vintage handbag. Isobel’s glamorous presence throughout the novel is impressive. Isobel is glamorous yet vulnerable, but her life experience translates into a formidable character in old age. This made me reflect on how we change according to our experiences.
The contrast between the innocence of the young Isobel and experience of the mature Bel is poignant. It is as if the two characters are one person experiencing the same life in a different era. The novel also shows us that ‘lost chances’ can be avoided, particularly in the twenty first century.
This is a charming, heart-warming story of second chances and the strength of family support. The narrative moves at a good pace. I found myself hanging on to every word of Isobel’s story and willing Bel to unite with the enigmatic solicitor. I hope there will be a sequel to this novel!
To find out more about the author, Maggie Christensen and heart-warming stories of second chances see: