Recently, Maggie Dana kindly sent me a copy of her book Beachcombing which is to be published this week, on June 5. It’s the story of Jill who is fifty-two, divorced and living alone in a beach cottage in Connecticut. On a visit to her friend, Sophie in England where they grew up, she meets Colin, a boyfriend from their teenage years. From the moment she fell down the stairs and fainted at his feet I could see what was coming.
Of course, Jill falls in love with Colin, who thirty-five years later is not the boy she thought he was. She thinks he’s going to marry her and come to live with her leaving his partner, Shelby, and the prosperous little hotel they run in the Cotswolds. And then, everything goes wrong! She has to work her way through heartbreak, work and financial problems, and innumerable car problems. At times she had fallen out with both of her best friends. The only problem free relationships she has are those with her two grown up sons.
Jill has a phobia about middle aged men leaving their wives for younger women and that colours her relationships so much so that she cannot see what is so obvious to everyone else. Despite having friends she is lonely and mistakes lust for love. I began to despair that she would ever come to her senses. I got to the point where I wondered what could possibly go wrong next and even at the end when things seem about to get better I wasn’t convinced they would.
The things I liked about Beachcombing were the way the characters are delineated (Jill is actually an amalgamation of a few women I’ve known) and the descriptions of the locations:
I race across my patio and head for the path between the dunes that separate my backyard from the beach. The tide’s coming in. I jump a line of seaweed and shells and plunge into the waves. The cold takes my breath away. Ducking under I swim a few strokes, then tread water and watch windsurfers bounce like butterflies across the metallic blue chop. In the distance, a freighter ploughs its way toward New York, and just beyond the lighthouse a small fishing boat chugs into the harbour.
I’ve lived on the beach for sixteen years and this view still gives me goosebumps. It validates my life. It keeps me from knuckling under when cranky clients, clogged sinks, and leaky roofs gang up on me at the same time.
But I’d have liked it more if it wasn’t written in the first person present tense. It’s a personal thing – I’m never too keen on that. Instead of adding to the drama I found that the continual crises Jill encountered actually lessened their impact; once one had passed it had gone, in a series of “nows”. I had the same problem reading The Time Traveler’s Wife.
The back cover describes Beachcombing as
… a coming-of-middle-age story about girl friends when you’re no longer a girl, and growing up when you’re already grown up, and the price you’re willing to pay for the love of your life.
I think that is a good summary. I wondered what the title – Beachcombing – implies. It occurred to me that the sea casts up a lot of rubbish on the beach and maybe that symbolises the rubbish that came into Jill’s life. It can also leave treasures. Jill’s problem was that she had difficulty in distinguishing the rubbish from the treasures.