An interesting premise: the book starts with a woman in hospital talking to her newborn baby girl. She starts to tell the story of her life, beginning with her own birth in St Thomas’s Hospital in 1965 and going right up to the present day.
“I’ll tell you my story. Our story. Because there’s nothing worse than wondering. Knowing is always better.”
It works well to begin with the end, and to return to it regularly through the telling of everything that led up to that point. It builds anticipation and has us wondering how Philippa ends up where she is, who the baby’s father is, how Philippa’s life gets to that place.
The early chapters are told very cleverly, using an adult’s voice but a child’s sensibility. Even Philippa’s experiences as a baby and toddler are covered, which I think is a difficult thing to do well, but it really worked here. As we move through Philippa’s childhood, adolescence and finally adulthood, the central interest is from the characters such as her distant, aloof mother and her adoptive father Bob.
The story speeds up quite a bit when Philippa is an adult. I suppose that reflects our way of remembering our lives – early childhood experiences can seem so visceral, whereas later events often merge together. As a child, I remember the summer holidays seeming to last forever, whereas in adulthood I am often shocked at how fast the years go by (I’m still struggling to accept that it really is such a futuristic-sounding year as 2011). For me, the effect in this book was that the childhood years made a stronger impression upon me, whereas the years from 20 to 40 moved too fast for me to get much sense of the characters. I have a much clearer impression of the old woman Wink, for example, than of Philippa’s husband Adrian.
There are a couple of big revelations at the end, one concerning Philippa’s mother and one about her love life. I won’t give away the details, of course, but I’ll just say that I found the one about the mother very satisfying – completely unexpected but completely believable, and answering a lot of questions from the earlier part of the book. The romantic one I was less convinced by, but maybe that’s because, as I said, I wasn’t so wrapped up in the adult part of Philippa’s life. The book for me was about Philippa’s odd relationship with her mother, and that central theme I thought was beautifully explored and very pleasingly concluded.