Searching for Tilly by Susan Sallis

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Searching for Tilly by Susan Sallis

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: A heart-warming story of three women from the nineteen twenties and three from the nineties and how they come to terms with the tragedies which life throws at them. It would make a good holiday read.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 480 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Corgi Adult
ISBN: 978-0552155564

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It was 1999 and Jenna was in the car with her young husband when they hit a patch of oil and skidded. Jem was killed in the crash and Caroline, Jenna's mother, took her to Widdowe's Cottage, home of her sister-in-law, Laura, to recover from her grief. They're not far from Land's End and the copper mine where Jenna's great grandfather was killed in an explosion, leaving his wife and three children to fend for themselves.

Times were hard in the nineteen twenties, particularly if you were dependant on the goodwill of others to earn your living and it's not long before Bessie and her two daughters have to flee Cornwall and make their way to her brother in Gloucestershire. The journey takes months and along the way another child is born. Initially looking for distraction but eventually obsessed by the mystery, Jenna, Caroline and Laura set out to discover what happened to Bessie, Alice and Tilly as they made the momentous journey - and hence the title of the book Searching for Tilly.

Jenna, Caroline and Laura are all widows although the older women have come to terms with their grief in the intervening years. They're still surprised and shocked by what they didn't know about the family history and devastated by the effect that it has on them. Is being part of a family down to a relationship or is it affected by how much of the family history, its secrets, are made available to you? And ultimately, who are you if you are not who you thought you were?

There's a stark picture of the conditions the copper miners had to withstand - including those of the young women working on the surface. Being 'in service' at the big house might have seemed preferable but some of the dangers there were worse than those to be found at the mine. Consumption was rife and life expectancy short.

This is a story in two parts which have been cleverly interwoven. The story of the journey undertaken by Bessie, Alice and Tilly over several months is replicated by Jenna, Caroline and Laura in relative comfort over a period of a few days. Both stories are well-paced with just the right amount of information being made available to make the reader want more. I thought I had the relationships worked out, but I was wrong and there's a neat little twist towards the end which I wasn't expecting.

Of the characters it's the women from the twenties who've stuck in my mind. Initially I thought I would dislike Tilly the dreamer but she proves to have a practical, sensible streak which appealed to me. My favourite though was Bessie, her mother, a sensuous, level-headed woman wanting the best for her family. Of the modern-day women I warmed to Caroline who shone through her insecurities. There is some romantic interest in the story, but it's secondary to the main theme.

It's difficult to pick up a Susan Sallis novel without thinking the words 'enchanting' and 'heart warming' - not least because they're usually on the front cover. It's true though. I've read quite a few and they're generally about women making good in a particular situation against the odds. They leave you feeling that sometimes the impossible is possible. The writing is good if not exceptional and the men are generally just a little two-dimensional, but when you've finished reading you will be left with a warm glow.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending this book to The Bookbag.

If this type of book appeals to you then you might also enjoy Uphill All The Way by Sue Moorcroft which also deals with the difficulties faced when a husband dies suddenly.

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Buy Searching for Tilly by Susan Sallis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Searching for Tilly by Susan Sallis at


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