Cousins by Salley Vickers

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Cousins by Salley Vickers

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Olivia Tierney
Reviewed by Olivia Tierney
Summary: Told through the eyes of three women – a sister, an aunt and a grandmother – Cousins revolves around the lies and secrets of one family over three generations.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: November 2016
Publisher: Viking
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0241187715

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We don't know our own limits so how can we judge the limits of others? And what it is easy to forget is that they were so young. Too young to bear all those horribly complicated family strains.

Salley Vickers' intense family odyssey revolves around one devastating accident in 1994. Reminiscent of the past, Will Tye's accident has a powerful effect on three generations of the Tye family, revealing long forgotten truths and close kept secrets. Cousins pieces together the events leading up to the event from three different close relatives' perspectives, in an attempt to understand what exactly happened and why it happened that dark night. His sister, grandmother and aunt all recount Will's childhood and growth into an adult, highlighting both his successes and mistakes whilst reflecting on their own pasts. From the outbreak of the Second World War right up until the present day, the family's mysteries are laid out for all to see. Family loyalties are tested and the lengths you will go to for those you love are questioned. At its heart, Cousins is a love story between two cousins, Will and Cece, littered with complications, potential and realism as well as the struggle to determine your worth when you're young.

I have to say this book grows on you. The first half is quite slow - you don't know enough to be too invested in the characters' stories and I for one struggled to relate to the characters themselves. But stick with it because the story really does pick up in the second half, as Salley Vickers tackles some complex and dark subject matters, particularly one at the very end which is constantly being debated in our society today. It's this unexpected addition to the story (I won't spoil it) that's very well written, and makes Cousins stand out from other novels revolving around a family.

I really enjoyed the context of life in Britain between the wars. It was very interesting to see how young people felt politically after the catastrophic events of the First World War. This particular section of the book explored pacifism, the imprisonment of those who refused to fight during the Second World War and reflected on the growth of communism during the 1920's and 1930's.

The characters also grow on you, it's interesting because I found that I related to the pivotal main characters, Will and Cece, who don't have any part in narrating the story more than those who do. But it wasn't until the end of the book that I really connected with all of the characters on another level, when I finally realised what this book is all about. It's about making mistakes, especially when you're young, and how individual decisions can have a profound impact upon those surrounding you, as well as your future. It's heart-breaking to see how Will's life spirals out of control and Vickers masterfully writes of vivid grief, neglect and loss.

Cousins is an unforgettable book, with subjects that remain with you even after the last page. Well written and wonderfully constructed, Salley Vickers has told a sorrowful story which is both engaging and interesting.

Many thanks to the publishers for providing the Bookbag with a copy for review.

In terms of further reading, A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler is highly recommended and an exquisite read revolving around family life.

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