- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: W&N (8 Jan. 2009)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0753825449
- ISBN-13: 978-0753825440
- Product Dimensions: 20 x 2.6 x 13 cm
- Average Customer Review: 18 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 109,264 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Footsteps Paperback – 8 Jan 2009
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this winning story of misplaced passion showcases the author's budding historical sensibilities (INDEPENDENT)
Touching prose and passion make this romance a must-read (BIG ISSUE IN THE NORTH)
The secrets and tragedies of a family's past, and the far-reaching effects on succeeding generations of women...See all Product description
Top customer reviews
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The story of a present day Helena involves a widow who is grieving for her husband who dies whilst mountain climbing. She is asked to collabarate on a book about her Grandfather - Donaldson. This then links to her Grandmother Ruth who died soon after the birth of her daughter.
Ruth's story is one of a girl born in the Edwardian era where opportunities were few and familial duty a high priority.
This book is so beautifully written, I am so grateful for amazon recommending it and will certainly seek out other Katherine McMahon books
The portrayal of complicated, intense and intriguing characters had me hooked from very early on; despite their depth they were attainable and understandable to me as a reader, and I felt able to connect with them.
In brief, the present day main character Helena has recently become a widow and embarks, initially with some hesitation, on a project to discover more of her own family's past, which until now has remained mysterious.
Running parallel is the story told from the perspective of the people living in that past, with the young Ruth Styles (Helena's Grandmother) the main focus.
The story continues following the two threads, and the link between Helena's family and that of her late husband is slowly unravelled.
It really is a beautiful book, the second I have read by this author, and far superior to the first I encountered.
Helena Mayrick is a journalist specializing in cultural history, married to a schoolteacher and with a small child. One day, she receives a letter from Nick Broadbent, a photographer, asking if she'd like to collaborate on a book on the early 20th-century photographer Hubert Donaldson, who, according to Helena's family, was almost certainly Helena's grandfather. That same day, Helena receives news that her husband has been killed in a climbing accident. Her grief is worsened by the discovery of a letter among her husband's things, which implies that he may have been having or had an affair. To distract herself, she agrees to work on the Donaldson book, and finds herself increasingly involved in Donaldson's story and in discovering more about his relationship with her grandmother Ruth - she also finds herself increasingly drawn to the mysterious Nick.
Helena's story, told in the odd-numbered chapters of the book, runs parallel to the story of her grandmother Ruth, which begins in the Edwardian era, and is told up until the end of the 1920s. Ruth's happy if confined life as the daughter of a wealthy London businessman comes to an abrupt end when her mother Julia suffers a nervous breakdown, and refuses to leave the family home in Suffolk. After a brief, unhappy period trying to live with her father in London, Ruth decides to devote her life to her mother. In the long years that follow, the most exciting part of her life is her friendship with Donaldson, who met her in Suffolk when she was just sixteen, and has loved her ever since. As Edwardian order and prosperity gives way to the chaos of World War I, Donaldson remains faithful to Ruth, visiting her regularly. But solitude and reading has given Ruth the belief that relationships must be full of tormented passion - not what she feels for Donaldson - and her lonely life has made her cruel as well as vulnerable. As her friendship with Donaldson grows deeper, and as her circumstances change, it seems increasingly likely that she may damage either Donaldson, or herself, or both of them.
There were a lot of interesting elements in this story, but ultimately, I didn't feel they quite came together. On the plus side, I thought Donaldson was a superb creation, a truly interesting and believable figure. McMahon also wrote movingly of Helena's coming to self-knowledge and Ruth's thoughts during her solitary life with Julia. And there were some fine descriptions of the Suffolk coast (though it's not as rainy there as McMahon implies!). But there were large areas of the story that I found unbelievable, or rather skimpily worked out, particularly in the historical parts of the story. The aspect of the plot dealing with Ruth's father Alan wasn't worked out well at all - were we meant to believe in him as a potential sex offender, abusing his wife and lusting after his daughter, or as a kindly man in a situation he couldn't control? He seemed to oscillate between the two wildly. What caused Julia's breakdown, and why did it take so long to happen, if it was her father that was the problem? If Miss Lily, Ruth's short term companion, was so horrible, why didn't Alan Styles get rid of her and get someone more suitable and closer in age to his daughter, or indeed get rid of Miss Lily when Ruth moved to care for Julia? If Ruth was as intelligent as we were meant to think, didn't she feel some guilt over her treatment of Donaldson? And why, if Ruth was intelligent and fairly self-aware, didn't she spot that the man she eventually fell in love with was a total rotter? Still, her story was extremely vivid, despite these inconsistencies and oddities, rather more so than Helena's, which felt quite underdeveloped in places, particularly in the descriptions of Helena's marriage and her growing romance with Nicholas. Helena's mother was an almost parodic portrayal of the 'repressed female' - and why did she suddenly relax so much towards the end of the book? And in her depiction of the child Nina, as so often with children in novels, McMahon overdid Nina's bratty side at the expense of her more interesting characteristics. So, although I felt this novel was full of interesting ideas, and had a potentially believable romance at the centre in both stories, I didn't feel it quite came together. I'd still give it four stars though, for the quality of the writing in the best passages, and the creation of Donaldson. And it's made me interested to read more McMahon.
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