Song of the Skylark by Erica James

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Song of the Skylark by Erica James

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: Gentle women's fiction set in two time-frames, introducing two similar young women and contrasting their lives and expectations as they work and fall in love in different eras.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: March 2016
Publisher: Orion
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 9781409159551

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'Song of the Skylark' has quite a cast of characters, and I found it a little difficult, at first, to keep track of everyone. Lizzie is the main protagonist; we meet her trying in vain to apply for new jobs after losing her previous one. We quickly learn that she was sacked for rather blatant immoral behaviour with her boss, a married man.

Lizzie had to give up her flat when she became unemployed, and is temporarily staying with her parents. Her mother Tess persuades her to volunteer at a local care home for the elderly until she can find a job, and Lizzie reluctantly agrees. There she meets Mrs Dallimore, a delightful lady in her mid-nineties, who starts telling Lizzie about her life as a young woman.

From this point the novel has two timeframes: that of the present day, and that of Mrs Dallimore - Clarissa - in her twenties. The latter starts in 1939 when, as a young woman, she travels alone from the United States to the UK in the hope of getting to know her late mother's estranged family.

There are several side stories intertwined throughout the present-day sections, mostly involving relatives or friends of Lizzie's, or other residents of the care home. After being slightly overwhelmed at the number of characters in the early part of the book I found that I quickly got to know them and remembered who was whom; my only occasional confusion in the latter part of the book was when I muddled Lizzie herself, for a moment, with the 1940s Clarissa. I assume that their increasing identification was deliberate on the author's behalf.

The characterisation is good, as with all Erica James' books, and I very much liked Mrs Dallimore, both as we first meet her and as her younger self. I appreciated the way that Lizzie becomes fond of the frail, elderly woman: she sees her sense of humour, and realises that hidden inside the failing body is a lively and exciting past, which gradually comes to light. Inevitably the shadow of World War II impinges on Clarissa's life in many ways, but despite some tragedies I thought it gave a good picture of what it might have been like to live through this era, without being overtly educational.

I found Lizzie herself rather annoying in the first half of the book. She has made some foolish mistakes, and seems to expect a career to fall into her lap; perhaps she is typical of today's 'entitlement culture', although her twin brother is much more laid back and likeable. Still, the fact that she irritated me shows how realistic she is, and gradually, as her better qualities come to the fore, I began to like her much better. It's quite a skill to create a heroine who starts out by seeming to have almost no redeeming features whose story is still interesting.

The writing is very good, the novel progressing at just the right pace for my tastes, so that I found it quite difficult to put down at times. Definitely recommended to anyone who enjoys thoughtful women's fiction where past and present timeframes alternate. Many thanks to the publisher for sending this to The Bookbag.

If you enjoyed this book, I would recommend almost anything else by the same author, such as It's The Little Things. If you are intrigued by novels that have two time-frames, then The Golden Cup by Marcia Willett might appeal, or perhaps Before We Say Goodbye by Louise Candlish.

Booklists.jpg Song of the Skylark by Erica James is in the Top Ten Women's Fiction Books of 2016.

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