REVIEW: WITH ALL MY LOVE BY PATRICIA SCANLAN

WITH ALL MY LOVE

Author: Patricia Scanlan 
Simon & Schuster RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan 

With All My LoveAuthor Patricia Scanlan has sold more than one million copies of her novels, all number one best-sellers. So, why has it taken me so long to read any of them? With all my Love is the first I’ve read by this prolific author and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s comfort reading and boy, was I comfortable with this book, a blanket, some crisps and possibly even some chocolate at the weekend. Scanlan is often compared to Maeve Binchy, whose books I love to read; it’s hard to make that comparison on the basis of one book, but their writing does seem to share a gentle touch, a softness that is as warm as a hug.

With all my Love is the story of three generations of women, secrets, betrayal and forgiveness. It begins when Briony McAllister discovers a letter inside an old photo album; the letter is addressed to her and begins “My darling Briony”. It’s a letter from Tessa, her paternal grandmother, of whom she has hazy but loving recollections, entreating her to get in touch when she is an adult. Briony, who grew up believing that her paternal grandparents did not want to see her, is devastated to realise that this was not the case at all. Her mother, Valerie, has lied to her for years. She confronts Valerie, her sense of betrayal prompting a decision to leave Valerie’s holiday home in Spain and return to Ireland with her young daughter, Katie. Distraught, Valerie tells Briony there were valid reasons behind the bitter separation and the choice she made to keep Briony from her grandparents. But will Briony listen? Will her relationship with Valerie ever be the same again? Are their strong bonds now broken beyond repair?

While Briony makes plans to return home, Valerie is forced to re-examine her past and the circumstances that led to the estrangement from her late partner’s family. The reader is drawn into her complicated and prickly relationship with Tessa; the relationship is seen through both Valerie and Tessa’s eyes, giving a complete picture and showing both women’s parts in the conflict and eventual estrangement. Their insecurities and resentments are tempered by the characters of Lizzie (Valerie’s best friend) and Lorcan (Tessa’s husband), who act as much-needed voices of reason. At times the narrative shifts between the past and present, but this is seamlessly done, without losing the sense of emotional investment gained during the flashback narrative. If anything, the shifts to the present acts as a welcome breather, a moment to gather your thoughts and release some of the tension that Scanlan skilfully builds.

With all my Love is an apt title for this book because each of the main characters believes they are acting out of love when they make some questionable decisions. It may not be the only motivation, but it is still a motivation. Out of love, Tessa opposes Jeff’s marriage to Valerie; out of love, Valerie takes Briony away from someone she believes is controlling and interfering. Out of love, Briony wants to take Katie away from someone she now sees as deceitful. Yes, hurt, jealousy and bitterness comes into play as well, which is why the actions are questionable, but there’s no denying that love is at the root. Even Terence, Valerie’s father, loved his daughter, despite some awful behaviour towards her.

Scanlan is adept at creating characters who get under your skin. For a good part of the novel it’s easy to relate to Valerie more – her vulnerability as a result of her difficult home circumstances and her hurt when Jeff puts off marrying her are strongly felt. Her prickly attitude to Tessa in the face of continual interfering is understandable. If you’ve ever been in that situation, you’ll get it. For much of the novel, Tessa is hard to like – she is the stereotypical dreaded mother-in-law who is jealous, manipulative and controlling – yet, as her own vulnerabilities come to the fore (such as her insecurities about her marriage and even ageing), sympathy is aroused.

Aside from the storyline itself, what I liked is Scanlan’s nod to the issues facing women at different times such as pregnancy out of wedlock, living in sin and working mothers. For each generation, leaps were made in society’s acceptance of these issues; however, each generation faced difficulties nonetheless. Valerie fell pregnant in the ‘80s and still struggled with stigma – although this is not shown in great detail, it is her oft-repeated fear of returning home as an unmarried mother that tell the story. One of the most touching interactions dealing with this issue was between Valerie and the town priest, in which he bestows love and compassion rather than judgment. Scanlan’s opinion comes through clearly here – treat people with love and compassion, rather than judgment. And learn to forgive, for through forgiveness comes healing. The ending had me reaching for tissues – I won’t give away spoilers, but just be prepared for the tears. It was beautifully done – a complex, multi-layered storyline pieced together with wisdom and a lot of heart.

Patricia Scanlan, your gentle way with words and warm storytelling approach has earned you another fan. I look forward to reading more of your books. I’ll be recommending this to my friends as a great comfort read.

With all my Heart is available from good bookstores and Simon & Schuster. This copy was courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Bookish treatWhat’s your comfort eat? That’s what you need to eat when you read this.