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4.1 out of 5 stars
Unexpected Lessons in Love
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
TOP 50 REVIEWERon 17 February 2013
Cecilia Banks, recently retired from her profession as a psychotherapist due to ill health, receives a rather large surprise when her forty-year-old son, Ian, a foreign correspondent, telephones her to inform her that she is a grandmother. Cecilia is shocked; she hadn't even known Ian's girlfriend was pregnant and she is even more shocked when Ian tells her that the baby is the result of a fling he had with a rather beautiful, but unstable woman, who has now disappeared and left his son, Cephas, with him. As Ian expected, Cecilia rises to the occasion and, once she lays eyes on Cephas, she bonds with him immediately and agrees to take him into her home and into her life; but Cecilia's life is rather complicated at the moment. For one thing, Cecilia is recovering from cancer; and then there is her husband and Ian's stepfather, Tim, who seems to be withdrawing from her as he fills his life with his work and his tennis. Added to this, there is her friend Helen, a writer, who shares Cecilia's illness, but isn't coping quite as well as Cecilia appears to be doing; and what's more, Helen has a secret from her past which she reveals to Cecilia, which gives Cecilia even more to think about. And then Ian receives a very unpleasant shock, which could have far reaching consequences - not just for him, but for Cecilia and Cephas, also.

This is a warm, absorbing, intelligent and entertaining novel which looks at morality and at those things that are really important in life: love, loyalty, family, friendship and, importantly, our health. What is really surprising is the way the author confronts a serious and life-threatening illness in such a straightforward and, in some places, humorous fashion and without becoming overly sentimental. I do have to say that there were some sections in the story which I, being very squeamish, found a little too graphic, but because the rest of the story is so warm and cheering, it enabled me to read through the parts that I found a little difficult. Bernadine Bishop has created some interesting and well-realised characters for her novel - even the baby, Cephas is particularly well-drawn, right down to his relationship with Cecilia's wonderful cat, Thor. I could go on, but I don't wish to spoil this story for prospective readers; so if you are looking for a satisfying family drama and one that is remindful of the important things in life, then this novel might well fit the bill for you.

4 Stars.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2013
Combined with writing a really great and interesting story the book touches on difficult topic in a light and funny way.. I really enjoyed and have now bought for 3 friends one of whom has a stoma and she says it helps to know and understand what others go through and she is not alone.. found it hard to put down
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 21 February 2013
Bernadine Bishop, a beautiful woman, has written a lovely, warm, moving and funny novel where the characters and their personalities are even more interesting than the entertaining plot. I seem to remember that Bernadine Bishop is a psychotherapist and if she is then she is certainly the one I would like to consult if I needed therapy! I feel the book cover does the book a disservice by making it look like chick-lit which it is not. The main character is a woman in her 60s struggling with living with a colostomy and I am tempted to call it sick-lit but it was such a heartwarming read that would also be unfair.
I would urge anyone looking for a book that's hard to put down and which continually surprises with its understanding of human nature to get this book! Especiaslly in the Kindle version!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2014
Bishop wrote two novels in her early 20s but did not return to her first love fiction until 50 years later, after a career as a teacher and a psychotherapist, during which she married twice and had two chidlren from her first marriage. After her retirement in 2010 because of cancer, she went back to novel writing she day after she was told that her cancer was gone and subsequently penned three works - this being the first. She explained: "I remember the delight at being in control of my own story again". "Unexpected Lessons In Love" was published in January 2013 and Bishop died - the cancer had returned - in July 2013.

Unusually - but obviously shaped by the author's life experiences - two of the main characters in the novel are elderly women, one a former psychotherapist and the other a novelist, who have a colostomy (or stoma) and the work describes frankly the physical and psychological nature of this challenge. Both women find love but in unexpected places - hence the title - but other forms of love are explored as well. There is a telling line in the novel: "... love falls where it falls and, like other rare and precious commodities, it must be appreciated and cherished wherever it is found". As a grandparent of a young child, I especially related to the descriptions of the chief character with her grandchildren: "the most important ansd sustaining joy of her life"

Bishop writes well. Not all the characters are fully delineated, not everything is explained, and the conclusion is open-ended, but this is the nauture of the modern novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 9 February 2013
As I had experienced life for 9 months with a stoma, my interest in this tale was high. I identfiied with lots of the feelings experienced by the writer and wished that I had a "buddy" to share thoughts with during that distressing time of my life. The story was fascinating with its twists and turns.

The fear of this dreadful disease is omnipresent but Cecilia's doggedness in trying to live a "normal" life is impressive, so is her husband's unfailing support.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 11 August 2013
It was a fascinating story, elegantly written and attention holidng from the first page to the last.. It left many questions unanswered, but perhaps that was part of it interest. I shall certainly reread it in the near future.
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At first I disliked this book, but within a few chapters I got into the stride of things and started to enjoy it. It's not without its flaws, but ultimately I liked it enough to give it a four star rating. The story opens with Cecilia, a retired psychologist recovering from cancer, having her previously unknown-of baby grandson unceremoniously dumped in her care. His mother, a schizophrenic, has gone missing without trace, and his father - Cecilia's son Ian - is a war correspondent about to leave the country, and none too keen on assuming parenting duties. This is an interesting set up, although I found the way it was narrated too rushed and unbelievable, which caused my initial dislike of the book.

The story could possibly maintain itself on this plot alone, but it branches out to cover the lives and moral dilemmas of other people in Cecilia's life. Cecilia's friend Helen, for example, who is reminded both of the child she gave up for adoption, and of her own mother, out of sight and mind in a Sheffield nursing home. Ian is forced to confront his unexpected paternity, and its impact on his on-off girlfriend Marina. And the Bridges, a nice middle class couple, wonder what has become of their mentally ill daughter Jane.

So the good - I found it compelling and interesting. The multiple plot threads go in unexpected directions and throw up thought provoking scenarios. There are weighty topics here, such as the importance of family, of blood-ties over others, of duty and responsibility, and the nature of parental love. I liked the frank and well depicted descriptions of the impact of living with a past cancer diagnosis, and with a stoma - both experiences that are increasingly relevant to many in the UK, but not often written about so openly. I liked many of the characters, who were generally good people. I thought the depiction of mental illness was done sensitively. I found it quite hard to put down towards the end once I had got into it.

The less good aspects were the implausibility of some of the turns in events, which often worked out unrealistically well. The behaviour of the characters was not always believable to me. There was a lot of coincidence, which annoys me in a story. There was one storyline and set of characters that was dropped midway through, which felt rather unsatisfying and you wondered why the author went to the trouble of introducing the characters as people in their own right.

Overall, this was a well written and compelling novel, with the exceptions that I mention above which I did find irritating. It should be enjoyed by readers who like stories about people and families. I would read another by the same author, if the topic interested me. This is in many ways a very clever story and one that makes you think about the fundamentals of who we love and why, and that's what I hope I remember about it rather than the aspects that let it down.
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on 7 December 2014
Women's fiction is often dismissed in literary circles as being concerned with the domestic, implying a narrowness not only of women's lives, but of their outlook. The domestic is often derided as being banal, dull, boring. Not that this kind of criticism has been levelled at Bernadine Bishop's Costa prize shortlisted novel, but I have to admit that kind of criticism is endemic and caused me to stop for a moment before picking it up, thinking this isn't really my kind of thing. Well, more fool me and more fool all the people who decry the domestic as limiting for the novel.

This beautifully-written book is quiet, yes, but thoughtful and wise, and at times blackly comic. It's essentially concerned with the intertwining lives of a family and those around them. But Bishop shows what rich fodder this is, delving deep into the private thoughts, desires and hopes of her main characters and creating something poignant and thought-provoking. Bishop's profession as a psychotherapist shines through in the depth of her understanding of human nature, and she manages to traverse difficult subjects - cancer, death, adoption, paternity testing, even kidnapping - with a lightness of touch and huge wisdom. Her exploration of anal cancer is the kind of area most novelists would avoid like the plague - too graphic, too unpleasant, too, well, real. But Bishop is fearless, and in her choice of subject gives a voice to the many people who have to deal with the often undignified reality of serious illness every day. And what's more, she does it with humour, drawing on her own experiences to give a truth to her characters'.

I finished the book awed, having been taken on a journey into the depths of the human heart and feeling all the wiser for it. It is a tragedy that Bishop is no longer with us to produce such profound and wise fiction, but she has left behind a book that has the potential to enlighten and uplift its readers. I, for one, was grateful for its insights, and turned back to my own 'domestic sphere' with a keener eye for its nuances, its joys and its challenges.

If this is "women's fiction", then I am proud to be a woman.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 31 January 2013
This has been a complete pleasure. It moves the reader in many ways; to sadness, fear, laughter, joy. It is properly and suitably funny. It manages to be complimentary about an Archbishop of Canterbury and to make us consider the possibility of life with a herniated stoma, which is no mean feat.

I thoroughly enjoyed this deftly intelligent engagement with love, madness, hope, resignation and uncertainty - oh yes!, and cancer too.

Very highly recommended.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 12 June 2013
Enjoyed this book, well written and deals with love, families, coming to terms with cancer, growing old, mortality. Heavy stuff usually but she writes so well its a good read.
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