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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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on 15 November 2014
Two stars instead of one because I did finish the book. But I agree with the criticisms voiced by other reviewers: it's not well written, the characters are simply not convincing, and the plot is propped up with improbable coincidences. It would never have got out of the slush pile without the puffing from well-known Hampstead pals.

I do have some sympathy with the writer's experience of bowel cancer, having been there myself. I just don't think it works to try to turn what's essentially an exercise in self-therapy into a novel. Write it down, by all means, and reconstruct the experience however you like. Once you've finished with it, throw it away. It's served its purpose.

Anyone recently diagnosed with bowel cancer, who may be wondering what it's like to live with a colostomy, would do much better to subscribe to "Roar", the magazine published by the St Marks colostomy-owners group. Really useful articles, and very readable.
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on 18 March 2013
I loved this book. The title is a little misleading but as you get into the story it all makes perfect sense and shows love in its many guises. I had heard an interview with the author on the radio and she had first hand experience of the medical condition which was key to the main character in the book. The book was well written and all the characters, whilst totally different, integrated well with each other to make the book a real page turner. Very insightful and I didn't want it to end.
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on 17 March 2013
I found this to be a very engaging book, which illustrates deep truths about life that are both real and encouraging.
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on 14 December 2013
The subject matter of this book may seem to be off-putting to some. However the sensitivity of its handling makes it easy to relate to and, combined with an unusual and well told story, provides for an unexpectedly pleasing read.
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on 13 February 2013
From the first page I was captivated - I found myself totally absorbed in the story yet at the same time very aware of how much wisdom and medical information was contained in those pages. I treasured each chapter and appreciated the craftmanship of every paragraph. I let a friend borrow my copy and his response was the same as mine. A perfect choice for any book club.
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on 5 October 2013
I bought this book because I liked the idea of a novelist having had a different career before turning to writing. I hoped it wouldn't be precious and insular. I was however disappointed. The story line is not very believable and the writing often sloppy. It really could have done with serious editing. In some ways it's quite autobiographical and a lot of the story revolves around cancer survival and colostomies. I was sympathetic to the author as she makes it clear that is her story and what made her give up her career as a psychotherapist. But I would have thought someone from her background would have more insight into human development. I guess she might have made a better job of writing an autobiography.

As an additional thought, I was also a little sceptical that the praise on the front cover is from Margaret Drabble, a well established and highly successful author. The notes within tell us that she and the author are lifelong friends, and other celebrities are also mentioned as friends and colleagues. Nothing is wrong with any of that, but I can't help suspecting this novel would have been rejected out of hand without the contacts the author clearly has.
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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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on 3 August 2013
As someone who knew Bernardine, I cannot be completely unbiased. Bernardine was a psychotherapist first. The book is a testament to her search for truth. Lovely.
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on 23 June 2013
This is a beautifully written book. Once the first page was started I had to finish it. It's heart warming, honest, thought provoking and beautiful.
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