A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

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A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ani Johnson
Reviewed by Ani Johnson
Summary: A lyrical story of an elderly woman waiting for something and the something that eventually arrives. It's a wonderful follow up to When God Was A Rabbit; poignant, ultimately uplifting with a real heart-warming ending.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: June 2015
Publisher: Tinder Press
ISBN: 978-0755390915

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Richard and Judy Spring Book Club 2016

89 year old Marvellous Ways stands outside her secluded Cornish caravan looking across the landscape with her binoculars. She has a feeling something will happen and soon. Elsewhere American Francis Drake (he's heard all the jokes!) has come home from the war and looks up the girl he left behind with results that are beyond his nightmares but will feature in them. Marvellous' and Drakes' lives will cross and then – Marvellous is right – something will happen.

Actress and author Sarah Winman already has a resounding best seller under her belt in the form of When God Was A Rabbit. The next novel is often difficult under those circumstances but in this case, it doesn't take a crystal ball to know that the story of Marvellous Ways and Drake will make that an acclaimed double. But I'm getting ahead of myself…

Drake is the more straightforward of the two people around whom this novel revolves. We break away from sitting with Marvellous in the early chapters to witness events from Drake's past. We watch his love affair with the less than innocent Missy, followed by his time away during World War II. From there we catch up with his intervening years before he appears in front of Marvellous with tragedy fresh in his memory and a letter for a Cornish doctor in his pocket.

When I say Marvellous is less straightforward, it's not meant negatively. She's just not such an open book. Eventually we do learn of her past as she talks to Drake revealing an episode a night, like a less dangerous, less threatening version of 1001 Arabian Nights. There is also a touch of inbuilt mystique in that Sarah doesn't spoon feed us. We are allowed – and positively encouraged – to come to our own conclusions. Is Marvellous a bit batty or is some of what she says accurate? The mad woman in the woods as some locals call her or a sage with an unusual heritage?

Don't panic fantasy-phobes. This isn't a fantasy novel but the story of two lives, summer meeting winter (not in a romantic way), with an added whisper of Celtic/Cornish mysticism that doesn't predominate. It just forms part of the impetus that keeps us turning the pages. That and the tangible feeling that we really care about Drake and 'Marv' as he comes to terms with an existence that keeps breaking and she dreams of and speaks to her dearly departed Jack.

This book is in some ways evocative of the great relationship-based authors; people like Fannie Flagg, Toni Jordan and Anne Tyler. Although there is a difference in that Sarah has a feel for language that's hard to replicate. For instance this short passage about Marvellous' dreams about her Jack:

For twenty years did she wait. And when he returned there would be no bright starfish laying down on a golden path to her door. Just the unmistakable sound of rumour.

It's not like this throughout though; Sarah uses her gift to differentiate the thoughtful, dream-dwelling life of Marvellous with the more practical, more daylight-pervaded world of Drake.

As we finish the novel my level of involvement became obvious as I went through a missing-them-already stage. It was then that I realised that Drake, Marvellous, that ending and, of course, Sarah's stunning lyricism would stay with me for a long, long time for all the right reasons.

(Thank you, Tinder Press, for providing us with a copy for review.)

Further Reading: As well as When God Was A Rabbit, we recommend The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis and/or Nine Days by Toni Jordan if you enjoy immersing in some engaging characters.

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Buy A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy A Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman at Amazon.com.


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