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Beachcombing by Maggie Dana is another one from the Macmillan New Writing stable. You could put it in the romance genre but it's more than that as it's a coming of age, in the second half of life sort of novel. Add to that some glorious humour and a pace akin to a thriller and you have a rather engaging tale, perfect for summer reading.
Jillian Hunter, now 52, did not have the happiest of childhoods with a rather distant mother. At 17, she was finding love with Colin, but he quickly disappeared for reasons unknown to his friends at the time. Jill departed to the US where she married the not too suitable Richard, had two sons, renovated a beachside cottage, divorced and set up her own business. Thirty-five years on, with her business not going too well, Colin returns into the fold of old friends and on a trip to London, Jill falls into his arms. Literally.
Then comes the passionate affair and Jill's realisation that she has never experienced a love like this before. But to the reader, Colin is not so perfect, being a presentation of "too good to be true" alongside the promises of leaving his life and existing partner to be with Jill. However, Jill is swept up in a tsunami of hormones, just like a teenager and as if the intervening years had never taken place.
Jill's journey actually proves to be bigger than that, as she isolates her best friends through her own behaviour and discovers a truth about her own background that allows her to see her own life and history differently.
The most refreshing element of Beachcombing was having a single female protagonist of 52 years of age. Yes, such women exist and Dana has given them a voice in this novel. It is not that many years ago that it was reported in the UK that the highest increases in the divorce rate were occurring in couples in their 50s and the actions were being sought mainly by the women. Thus, the character of Jill rings true. (Luckily for Jill, she does not also make it as one of the current 50s' STD statistics in the novel, albeit she may be familiar with the experience from her earlier years…)
Family life is out in force in Beachcombing, with children and grandchildren of many ages appearing, all well-depicted with warmth and humour. The value and quality of friendship also comes under the radar.
Beachcombing is ultimately a "feel good" novel, heart-warming and optimistic. There is quite a bit of tumult along the way, but that's par for the course with the drama in such a novel. I am glad that MNW gave this one a chance as I think there is a specific market out there for such a story. It's also good to have real women – normally invisible at this age – allowed to have a voice. One of Dana's biggest achievements here is to write with the pace of a thriller. I couldn't sleep last night and neither could I put the book down. Dawn may have broken, but Jill seeks to fix her life…
I hope the book does well and I hope we have more from Dana. You can find out more about the author here.