The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith

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The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: An unusual love story, across the miles and across the years. Don't judge Alexander McCall Smith by this book alone - I don't think it's one of his best.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2014
Publisher: Pantheon Books
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0307908254

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I have loved Alexander McCall Smith's books since I first picked one up, and so I have been waiting for the release of this, a standalone novel, ever since I first heard about it. It pains me, therefore, that I'm unable to shout about how marvellous it is to you all or how you should rush out to buy it immediately because actually, I found it disappointing.

Initially set in the Cayman Islands, this is the story of Clover. Or it might be the story of her mother, Amanda. For a while the book isn't clear about whose story we should be following more closely. Anyway, let's say that it's the story of Clover, whose best friend, at the age of six, is a boy called James. Clover falls head over heels in love with James, and we follow her long-suffering, unrequited love affair as she travels to Scotland, to Australia, and to Singapore. I think the first issue, of whether the story was about Clover or about Amanda, is significant. Although he sets up the idea of children following in their parents' footsteps and making the same mistakes in love and life as their parents have, it still feels like Amanda's story for quite a lot of the book, and I was left wondering where she was and what was happening to her through the later chapters, and my queries were never properly answered. Although she does come back into the book there were no satisfactory conclusions to her own life story.

As for Clover, I didn't find her to be believable. Or perhaps I did believe in her character, but I didn't like it very much! She was so passive. Things just happened to her. She just pootled along, being 'in love' with James for years and years without doing anything about it but quite blatantly letting it rule her life, and ruin her life. I wanted to give her a good shake. It seemed like several other characters in the story wanted to give her a good shake too! Where were the strong, wonderful women characters that AMS usually writes so well? I'm certain Mma Ramotswe would have had plenty to say to young Clover! And James, the love interest, was so empty of character, such a figment of her imagination, that I really didn't care whether they ended up together or not - it seemed unlikely that they would be able to sustain a long and happy marriage. I think the problem was that I never really believed that it was true love. It just felt, throughout, that Clover was just pining after an ideal man, rejecting others because they could never live up to his image in her mind.

Usually, I find myself when reading AMS, to be mentally nodding along to the little comments and observations that he makes about life, but not in this book. I also, usually, find his stories to be ultimately uplifting, like a hug in a book, and this time I just felt rather miserable through the first half of the story and annoyed through the latter half, and sad that I was feeling this way about a book I had looked forward to.

It may be that some readers who have found AMS to be too saccharine in the past will prefer this story. It felt like he was writing in a different style. It felt like he wanted to write about love, but a more gritty real-life love and somehow, it just didn't work for me. I couldn't help wondering if he hadn't really cared that much about these characters. I didn't feel any love for them, and I wondered if he had too.

It isn't badly written, and it has its moments. I liked the girl that Clover lives with briefly in Australia, and the friendship with Judy in Singapore was bitingly portrayed, but overall I was left feeling disappointed, with unfinished ends in the adults' stories and a distaste for and disbelief in Clover's story too.

For a much better standalone AMS novel take a look at La's Orchestra Saves the World. We also enjoyed Trains and Lovers: The Heart's Journey by Alexander McCall Smith.

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Buy The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Forever Girl by Alexander McCall Smith at


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