Blue Slipper Bay by Wendy K Harris

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Blue Slipper Bay by Wendy K Harris

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Jill is concerned about her husband Ash, and the future of their health centre. Sophie is not sure what to do when her husband leaves her. Nick is trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife. Their lives intertwine as they all find the way forward.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Transita
ISBN: 978-1905175338

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Jill is a psychologist, who's worried about her husband Ash. Their marriage is mostly comfortable rather than sparkling, but he's recently been concerned about their student daughter Rose and seems depressed. Ash is an osteopath who runs an alternative health centre on the Isle of Wight; Jill doesn't like him to go much beyond the bounds of conventional - or at least proven - treatments, and is particularly suspicious of Marguerite, a rather strange mute woman with extraordinary psychic and healing powers.

There's also some kind of mystery to Jill, which is hinted at once or twice in the early chapters. Evidently she's not all she seems...

Jill's best friend is Sophie, who is distraught because her husband Peter walked out on her. Sophie leaves her job and goes to stay with Jill, and inevitably becomes caught up in suspicions and concerns about her friends' marriage. As she works through her hurt and confusion, she begins to discover what she really wants for herself.

And then there's Nick, living alone, recovering from the death of his wife and their unborn baby a few years before the story begins. Nick hasn't really come to terms with his loss, but he copes, just about, by working hard and keeping to himself.

There's also a café owner who befriends and employs Sophie, Marguerite's sister Jane, who employs Nick, an elderly fisherman who treats Marguerite as a daughter, and a couple who own the cottage where Nick lives. Oh, and Sophie's sister, plus several sudents and children.

Yes, it's a big cast, and I found myself a bit confused at first, trying to work out who was who and which ones were important. It turns out that they all are to some degree, although the three main viewpoint characters are Jill, Sophie and Nick.

But although I had to do a bit of backward page-flicking in the early chapters, I soon found myself feeling quite involved in the lives of these hurting people. It wasn't long before I could distinguish everyone easily, and found myself particularly empathising with Sophie and her quest for meaning and purpose.

I suppose this book is really chick-lit for older women: there are casual relationships as well as more committed ones, and the plot moves fairly rapidly at times, with a fair amount of action. There are many misunderstandings, too, before the expected romantic conclusion involving two of the characters. But there are deeper ongoing themes running through the book, the main one being the vital importance of total honesty, combined with lack of judgementalism, in any friendship or partnership. As a parent I was also struck by the different childhoods of several of the characters, and the necessary balance between freedom and structure that so many children need.

Then there's the background of alternative healing, showing both the positive side and the potential problems that can arise when people experiment without training or accountability. And there are also some descriptions of places in the Isle of Wight, which the author clearly knows well; I found the balance about right there, with enough to set the scene but not so much that I became bored.

My only reservation was that one of the subplots, involving the strange Marguerite and her sister Jane, was hinted at but never explored. I eventually realised that this is because this is actually a sequel to another book, The Sorrow of Sisters, which apparently features them in the main plot. Since Blue Slipper Bay stands alone in many respects, I'm slightly puzzled about why any reference was made to the past, although if I had read the first book I probably wouldn't have noticed.

All in all, though, a good read. It probably wouldn't really appeal to young people, and is likely to be of more interest to women than men, but in general I'd expect a fairly wide appeal.

My thanks to the publishers for sending this book.

Another book about a long friendship, with some deep themes to explore, is Things to Make and Mend. Uphill all the Way is also about someone coming to terms with her future after a relationship comes to a sudden end.

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