Painting Naked by Maggie Dana is the US edition of Beachcombing which I reviewed here a year or so ago. It has a brand new cover as well which I like very much, the last one had the usual headless woman on it so beloved of publishing houses. This new cover reflects the sharp, witty novel much better in my opinion. I am delighted to re-read and re-review this book and it was just as delightful as I remember.
What I liked about this book is that it is not about some glam supermodel or impossibly long limbed high flier with a penchant for Prada and Manolo Blahnik, but a middle aged woman who has longings and fears just like us all.
Finding a book about such a heroine is hard so when they turn up, they should not be missed.
Jilllian Hunter lives in an old tumbledown beach house in Connecticut. She is divorced from Richard "He complained I was cold. Frigid. He's right. I was, but only with him" . She has raised two sons by herself, restored the house and has started a small business all on her own so by any lights she has been a success. But, Jill has fond memories of Colin, ("does that lock of hair still flop cross his forehead? Do his cheeks still dimple when he smiles?") a boy she fell in love with in her teens, and has yearned after ever since and so when she falls into his arms on a visit to an old friend in London (literally, she trips down a flight of stairs), she is ready to embark on a passionate affair with him.
Jill throws caution to the winds and, while it is clear to the reader that perhaps Colin is not the god she thinks he is, she abandons all inhibitions along with her commonsense and hurtles headlong into a relationship with this long lost love of her youth. We can see the inevitable crash and heartbreak coming a mile off, but as I am sure most of us know, love is blind and being older and, in theory, wiser makes no difference at all to heartbreak. By the time Colin dumps her, she has managed to lose old friends, has risked her livelihood and is staggering on the brink of disaster, both personal and professional and she has to Get a Grip and start all over again.
Some very familiar bells with me during this read and I found myself totally in sympathy with Jill. She is funny, not always wise, but is loyal and lovable with a self deprecating attitude to her own faililngs. The writing is witty and sharp and funny and the narrative is paced beautifully, not too frenetic but zapping along nicely and keeping the reader's attention at all times. You really like the characters, not only Jill but her friend and neighbour Lizzie who though she "has no idea what it's like to run your own business...works in a community college where students turn up on an annual basis, paychecks are deposited directly into her bank account ...computers are fixed, the water cooler is filled and her printer is never ruined by stray cat hairs" is supportive and loving. Apart from friends and family, she also has a cat named Zachary who disappears when Colin is around and comes back when he has gone (cats always know best). It turns out that he has adopted a second home in the next house along the beach where a rather interesting man called Tom happens to live. Such perspicacity....
Ok, well you don't need a degree in rocket science to see what is going to happen and that after all the heartbreak and angst, Jill is going to find happiness and fulfillment. It's a given. If I say that this book is very Katie Ffordish I do hope Maggie takes this as a compliment as I love her books and the slightly scatty heroines who manage to come through against the odds. It is a good feeling to know that books are being written by authors who know that being over 50 does not mean that your heart doesn't stop beating when you are with somebody you love, that you can dither what you are going to wear on a date (big knickers or little knickers), does my bum look big in this, oh dear look at the saggy tummy, and that falling for someone is not the prerogative of the young and beautiful. I found this book heartwarming, amusing and delightful and loved every page.
"I came so close to losing all this..........my best memories lie within the fabric of these walls.....climbing the stairs I run my hands along the banister, down the spindles, feeling drips of paint I neglected to sand off.....in the distance, waves roar and rumble up the beach.
My beach. My home"