Maine by Courtney Sullivan

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Maine by Courtney Sullivan

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Delve deep into the lives of one superby dysfunctional family as they visit their beach home in Maine. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 400 Date: January 2012
Publisher: Atlantic Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0857894960

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The Kellehers' beach-front holiday home in Maine was built on a plot of land won in a bar-room bet at the end of World War II. It's not in the same league as the Kennedy compound at Hyannis Port but there are a couple of substantial properties on the plot and there's still room to spare. It's a place of indulgence, secrets and the sort of burning cruelty which you only get in families who care for each other - some of the time. Maine is essentially the story of a summer at the property - but the seeds of what happens were, of course, planted long ago.

Alice is the matriarch of the family, left a widow a decade before by Daniel - loved by all and who, somehow, made Alice into a nicer person than she would otherwise be. He certainly stopped her drinking - until he died. Patrick is the eldest child and it was his marriage to Anne Marie which cured him of being the wild child. Now they're obsessed with money, with possessions and ensuring that they get the best that's going. Anne Marie's a good Catholic, but she's also obsessed with the idea of having a sexual relationship with a married man. Oh, yes - and kitting out dolls' houses.

Katherine's the second child and she was Daniel's favourite. She inherited the drinking gene but has been dry for many years and now lives in California with her partner. They have a worm poop farm - a constant source of cruel digs by the rest of the family. She hoped that she would never go to the Maine property again. The other side of the country is just far enough to distance herself from the memories. But when her daughter is ditched by her boyfriend - and that was before he knew that she was pregnant - she has to intervene.

The story is told from the point of view of the women in the family - and if I have one quibble about the book it's that the men are rather shadowy characters. But the women are superb, coming off the page fully-formed to live in your mind. Alice is carelessly cruel but has suffered from survivor guilt for decades - and she can't even talk about the problem. Katherine can't resist the urge to interfere and Anne Marie should have 'MARTYR' tattooed on her forehead, but it's Maggie your heart goes out to. In years to come you know that she'll be glad to be well-shut of the wastrel boyfriend, but right now she's living in the hope that he'll get in touch to tell her it was all a mistake. Their shortcomings are all so human, so common and so ruthlessly exhibited to us.

So, great characters. There's a great sense of place too. I swear that there were times when I could smell the sea and feel its chill, even in the middle of summer. But the plot pulled me in from the first page and as I was getting closer to the end I really couldn't see how it was all going to work out, but it did. It's a superb book and highly recommended.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

If this book appeals then you'll almost certainly enjoy The Help by Kathryn Stockett. We can also recommend The Birthdays by Heidi Pitlor and Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.

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