Devotion by Nell Leyshon

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Devotion by Nell Leyshon

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Trish Simpson-Davis
Reviewed by Trish Simpson-Davis
Summary: A tale of a deceptively mundane family break-up, told by the four family members in turns. Small yet perfectly formed, I've given this high impact read five stars.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 250 Date: March 2009
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978-0-330-42642-8

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I really only intended to read the first couple of pages, you know, just to get a feel for the book. I surfaced a couple of hours later … good thing this profound and moving novel is short; the intensity of the story is just too hot to handle for long.

Set firmly in mundanity, four family members tell the story of a marriage breakdown. They are as ordinary as you or me. Caught between parents, daughters Tilly and Grace behave and speak exactly as I'd expect from a child of six and a teenager of fifteen in that situation: bewildered, unhappy and unco-operative. Like all normal parents, Rachel and Andrew react with increasing tetchiness as the emotional fire is fanned by the girls' reactions to the breakup of the family.

The atmosphere in the family is claustrophobic. Rachel dives into another relationship. She tries to wing through with determined optimism and maternal pragmatism but the girls aren't having any truck with the new man. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

Andrew turns to the local estuary for relief from his nightmare; I love Nell Leyshon's atmospheric descriptions of the wide open sky and tidal landscape. Andrew's other recourse is a geeky interest in his pet praying mantis. The reader is bombarded with factual information, which is Andrew's lifeline to normality. As a literary device, the cannibalistic female praying mantis is on a par with a suspenseful Hitchcock movie. The motif of consummation recurs through the story to underline the destruction of the family.

Since each narrator speaks in the first person, I can see the situation equally from four points of view, my sympathy torn between them all. It's easy to see how the stresses of a situation can edge a reasonable person into loss of reality, with disastrous results. This is a there but for the grace of God go I … scenario, rather than a finger-pointing exercise by the media.

It's unusual to have an author dealing even-handedly with four fully-developed characters, and for my money, it works beautifully (as does the whole novel). On the other hand, I find myself at the end, examining the current assumption that an individual’s right to choose sweeps all before it. Anyone contemplating splitting up might like to read this cautionary tale first.

The Bookbag would like to thank the publishers for sending this book.

The intimacy with the characters, and my reactions to the subject matter, remind me of Alice Sebold's The Lovely Bones or The Almost Moon. At a more literary level, Maggie O'Farrell's After You'd Gone has a firm stamp of approval from The Bookbag.

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Buy Devotion by Nell Leyshon at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Devotion by Nell Leyshon at


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