Friday, June 26, 2009

Book Review: Without a Backward Glance, by Kate Veitch

Without a Backward Glance - by Kate Veitch

I was drawn to this novel because of its intriguing premise. It's Christmas Eve 1967, and Rosemarie and Alex McDonald are frazzled with holiday preparations in their home in Melbourne, Australia. Their four children (two boys and two girls, ranging in age from 6 to 13) are excited for the holiday and their hyperactivity proves to be the final straw for Rosemarie, a frustrated mother homesick for her native England.

While decorating the tree, Rosemarie tells her kids that she is going to the store to get more lights ... and she never returns. What's worse is that her disappearing act is deliberate and planned (outside the home where her children are singing carols, a friend is waiting in the silent night to secretly drive her to the airport.) She flies back to England, pursues a career as a fashion designer, and finds a new love.

Meanwhile, Rosemarie's four kids and husband are back in Australia flailing in the wake of her abandonment; as each grows into adulthood, each copes with this childhood trauma while battling individual demons.

The first third of Without a Backward Glance has all the drama and emotion that such a plot requires and demands, engrossing the reader in a fast-moving story. Veitch's writing moves at an engrossing pace and the characters are well-developed as Veitch skillfully "shows not tells" the reader how Rosemarie's leaving has affected the family members during the 40 years she's been out shopping for Christmas lights.

However, the novel started to lose me when James, one of Rosemarie's sons, is visiting London and tells the story of his mother's disappearance to absolute strangers at a dinner party. Coincidentally, one of the guests listening raptly is his own mother's best friend. She arranges a mother and child reunion, and the two fawn all over each other as if four decades hadn't even happened.

I don't think I would have reacted in the way James did (in fact, I know I wouldn't have), and initially this really bothered me - as if the character James should have reacted as I wanted him to. The more I think about it, the more I think Veitch was portraying that this is how the character needed to reacted. He craved this connection, as is evident from his relationship with his significant other.

It falls to James, of course, to inform his siblings that dear old Mom is alive and well ... but, well, there never seems to be an opportune time to mention this tidbit of news. His sister Deborah has marital problems, brother Robert has a stressful job, and sister Meredith is an alcoholic.

So instead he keeps his relationship with Rosemarie secret for a year and only informs his siblings of Mom's existence when she announces she's planning to come for a visit. At Christmastime. Of course. Again, this was another development that I had some difficulty with. It seemed too neatly packaged (pun unintended).

I was also kind of bothered by the dialogue between the brothers and sisters. At times, it's a bit over the top and too "lovey-dovey." Everyone addresses each other with an affectionate "my darling" or "my dear." I'm not familiar with Australian norms and customs to know if this is typical, but for an American audience, this was excessive - as was the overuse of exclamation marks. Towards the end, almost every sentence was punctuated in such a way! It was distracting! I think that if you're noticing such things and focusing on them, then the result is a detraction from the story! Again, perhaps this is indicative of Australia ... I'm just not sure. (If I'm wrong on that point, let me know!)

I wanted to like Without a Backward Glance this a bit more than I did - and indeed, there were aspects I liked. For example, I liked the character of Olivia and I thought Deborah was also well done. Overall, my rating: 3 out of 5 stars.

What Other Bloggers Had to Say:

Lynne's Little Corner of the World

You might be interested in this interview with Kate Veitch from The Debutante Ball

Diary of an Eccentric's review

Diary of an Eccentric's interview with Kate Veitch

Jess from Barney's Book Blog interviews Kate Veitch


Niksmom said...

Sounds like a very interesting premise for a story. Bet it gets optioned for a movie. You know with, say, Kate Winslet or someone like that. I confess, I'd watch it.

Betty and Boo's Mommy said...

I could absolutely see this as a movie, Niksmom, and wouldn't be surprised to see it do well as such. It might be one of those cases where it translates better on the big screen, I dunno.