Margaret Forster has written over twenty novels and several works of non-fiction and I am a huge fan of hers and have read nearly all of her output. A new Margaret Forster on the bookshelf is always a case of rejoicing as far as I am concerned. There have been the odd one or two that I have not thought were up to her usual high standards, I found Memory Box and Diary of an Ordinary Woman, slightly disappointing but then last year I posted about Keeping the World Away which was one of my top reads of 2007. Now just over twelve months later I have just closed up the last page of Over which is also another superb book destined, I am sure, to make my top reads of 2008.
Odd that the last two books I have read, this and Mothernight, should have the loss of a child and the effect on the family, as its theme. Pure accident that I should read these one after the other, as I have had Over for a few months now before finally picking it up. In Mothernight it is a very new baby who dies, in Forster's novel it is a teenager, Miranda, who drowns in a boating accident. The story is narrated by her mother, Louise, who is slowly coming to terms with her grief and is trying to refashion her life. Her husband, Don, cannot. He refuses to accept the the death of his daughter and is determined to find blame and bring someone to account for his loss. He throws himself into endless investigations and research seeking a reason for what happened, not believing that Miranda took a boat out and, being an inexperienced sailor, could not cope when a sudden change in the weather placed her in danger.His obsession gradually drives his wife and children away from him and slowly the family cracks apart.
This is a very moving and remarkable book. Margaret Forster has an uncanny knack of making the reader empathise with the thoughts and feelings of the narrator. Difficult to realise that this is not autobiographical, at least I hope not, as she gets under the skin of her main character, Louise, and her feelings of grief, exhaustion and slow return to normality are depicted so realistically. Forster's writing is flowing, fluid and draws you in so that you read easily and become totally absorbed. I was late back from my lunch break at my office today as I could not go back to my desk until I had read the last few pages and then found it very difficult to return to my work and concentrate properly.
'What is left when the tide recedes and it's over'
After the event, after the understanding that you are never going to see your child again, how do you pick up the pieces and get back to a semblance of normal life. How do you cope? I found this book very moving and am sure that this post is very inadequate indeed as I really find it hard to put into words what a remarkable piece of writing this is. Margaret Forster has been around a long time now, 70 this year, and because of her longevity and regular output, perhaps is not as valued as she should be. I think she is one of our finest living novelists.
One comment on the back of this edition 'Like so many of Forster's novels it leaves behind a sense of something both absent and profound'
Spot on. Do buy and read and tell me what you think.