Dobson has skillfully combined the story of a contemporary situation with its historical foundation. Heather Toulson is an art restorer living in Portland, Oregon. Her father, Walter Doyle, had recently died and she goes back to England to clear out the family cottage and sell it. What she finds in that process changed her life and her understanding of her family.
Interspersed with Heather's contemporary experience is the story of Maggie Emerson in the mid-fifties. Pregnant by a visiting sailor, she attempts suicide during a storm. She is saved by Walter Doyle, a man who has wanted to marry her for years. He asks her again and she agrees, seeing it as a way out of her embarrassing situation.
They name the child Libby. She is loved by Maggie and Walter but they know she is a different child indeed. As Dobson notes at the end of the book, today Libby would be diagnosed as autistic. In the fifties, Libby was considered odd and was made fun of by schoolmates. The Doyles lived next to Ladenbrooke Manor and Libby loved to wander in its gardens. As she came into her teens, Libby met Oliver, the son of the manor family and a young man deeply in love with her. When Libby became pregnant, it was a disaster for both families, resulting in a death.
I really liked how the two stories developed as Dobson alternated between them. As we venture farther into the book we begin to see how the stories are related. In fact, it is essential for Heather to know what happened all those years ago to understand who she is today.
I enjoy learning something when I read fiction and in this novel it was about autism. Libby communicated best in pictures. When Oliver wanted a secret meeting, he would draw a picture of where and a clock indicating when. But what Oliver found so attractive in Libby was a deep inner awareness, a sense of life missing in other people. I have just been reading a book by Temple Grandin, an autistic, so was familiar with much of the condition. I felt that Dobson's characterization of Libby was masterful.
Running through this novel is the theme of sin, forgiveness, and healing. I loved this quote from Walter's journal: “The aftermath of sin might remain, like the destruction after an earthquake, but He cleanses it from our souls so we can rebuild. He can heal our wrongs from the inside out.”
This is a good novel about discovering the truth of two families and how their lives intertwined. Add to that a little mystery and some romance and you have a very entertaining and informative novel.
Melanie Dobson is the author of thirteen novels, two of which won Carol Awards. She and her husband have two daughters and live in Portland, Oregon. You can find out more at www.melaniedobson.com.
Howard Books, 352 pages.
I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.