The 1960’s in colour

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Necessary Lies Diane Chamberlain

Fans of this popular author will tell you they love her characters. And quite rightly, her characterisation is terrific, which is doubly terrific when you know see the ensemble approach she takes.

This is the second of Diane’s books that I’ve read.  Today, as I reflected on it, what strikes me is her strength in conveying messages and ideas through inanimate characters. In The Silent Sister, it was a necklace and violin. In this book the 1960’s is a character in a way that you don’t expect in a book that’s more contemporary fiction and less historical fiction.  Few historical fiction writers give the era they focus on such a strong character.  My only real comparison is the way New York is the fifth character in Sex and The City.

Instantly you’re right in the 1960’s. This is not a 21st century version, but the real thing. The racism, sexism and superiority infiltrate your brain so subtly. You don’t need anything else to explain Jane’s marriage and her choices.  She’s not a heroine of my time but of two generations ago, such a difference. It was almost creepy how the author let you see that without telling you.

It was clear that few of the characters had choices, in fact even the wealthy men were with one exception stuck in their time.

This book might be an easy enjoyable read, but it should essential reading for every student of 20th century America, especially women’s history.

The real power in this ending comes not in the way the story finishes (which is lovely) but in the author’s notes where it becomes clear that this Eugenics approach wasn’t a few rogue administrators which I had assumed. This was known government policy. And they say that truth is stranger than fiction. Sometimes it’s simply worse than fiction.

 

For transparency’s sake I should add that on her recent trip to London I was part of a group who had afternoon tea with the author. Whilst, meeting her encouraged me to read her books it has no bearing on my recommendation.

 

Finding silence

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The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain

Hot on the heels of having read Shtum, I found I was fascinated by the concept of silence in this book.  Maybe I went looking for it, but for me silence dominated the story.

It’s the story of Lisa who’s suicide completely shaped her sister Riley’s life, including her career. Yet Riley has no memory of her sister. Lisa chose silence long before she was made silent, interesting for a musician.

However, the most telling silence comes from her father.  His death ensures his silence, but it’s his silence in the past that has defined Riley’s life and that of her brother, Danny.

Danny’s own silence is interesting. He won’t share with Riley the PTSD issues he is grappling with, sharing only that the damage is to his soul.  Ultimately, Danny is quite vocal both in his view of Lisa and in deciding the future.  His silence gives Riley what she most needs.

Violet the violin, is a most interesting character, one that is silent through the whole book, but looms over the family.  Wordlessly, pointing out what they lost and the lack of talent that Riley and Danny have. In fact, Violet knows just what happened. And won’t or can’t tell.

Then there’s the mystery woman at the very start of the book, she remains silent over many years. And why is that? When she does speak, she is silent and yet not silent. In fact, she starts the silent avalanche that hits Riley.  (Pay attention to chapter 18 – thanks to Diane for that tip!).

Like Violet, another inanimate object – the jade necklace – shares with Riley a powerful truth.

Its a richly crafted and intriguing book, beautifully written.  Yes, there are issues with the ending and I was left with more questions than I would normally like. But equally the ending is now mine to craft. Maybe it’s all good but maybe it’s not?