Archive | November, 2018

Van has finished reading… The Fourth Shore by Virginia Baily

23 Nov

the fourth shore

The trees are aflame with colour and your breath clouds before your face. For the first time this year you’ve got your hat and gloves on and you’re snuggly in your boots and autumn coat. It’s quiet, just you and a wide open space. That feeling – the anticipation of it, the awareness that things are changing yet you’re cosseted, safe and warm and ready – that’s reading Virginia Baily.

Following in, or perhaps anticipating the footsteps of the sublime Early One Morning, Virginia Baily’s new book The Fourth Shore returns to Italy to begin the story of Liliana Cattaneo, who follows her brother to Tripolitania in Libya. In this burgeoning land of opportunity Liliana is optimistic, on the cusp of life, love and adventure, though she is about to discover there is more than one side to Italy’s outpost in North Africa, and to the homeland she wants to believe in. Her dream of romance will have dire consequences for her and those closest to her.


You’ve got to love a writer who takes enough care over her characters and storyline, and who thinks enough of her readers to make use of all the details. It’s a delight to me – really, it actually makes me smile as I read – when the manner in which one character is debilitated become the means for insight to another. Nothing is incidental, nothing gets wasted. And then there are those ‘Harvey’ moments where the care taken over the words shines through in a perfectly weighted phrase.

Although Virginia Baily’s The Fourth Shore covers a sweep of events in the grand sense, it’s a very personal story she tells, quiet and intense. It’s through her characters’ responses to those events, and to each other that she views the wider impact of those historic events. There is a secret at the heart of the story, and its uncovering and the action that precipitate it are a perfect mirror of cause and consequence. This is how fiction at its finest works (see Virginia Baily’s Early One Morning, Sarah Day’s Mussolini’s Island, Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life).

Liliana is an absolute gift of a character, my view of her changing sometimes from page to page, and I loved the scenes she shares with Farida (who appears so clear to me I believe I may well have met her). The way their relationship moves is a joy to behold. And then there is Zaida, and the need to hold on to your breaking heart – make no mistake, this book is going to make you feel!


Virginia Baily’s The Fourth Shore is wonderful, a quiet story, though no less devastating for that. It cuts to the heart of what it is to love, to trust, to believe. To make amends. It will squeeze your heart, no doubt, but it will make it swell too.


The Fourth Shore will be published by Fleet on 7th March 2019 ISBN: 9780708898499


You can find Virginia on Twitter @VirginiaBaily or on her website,

My especial thanks to Ursula Doyle at Fleet for allowing me to review this lovely book.

Van has finished reading… The Last Words Of Madeleine Anderson by Helen Kitson

2 Nov

last words of madeleine anderson

Twenty years after the publication of her only novel – a book hailed as a work of genius – Gabrielle Price’s literary star has dimmed. Now living an unremarkable life in the village she grew up in, Gabrielle is middle-aged, working as a housekeeper for the local vicar, surrounded by memories of her best friend Madeleine, who died young in tragic and mysterious circumstances. When Gabrielle receives a letter from a fan she has no idea that her responding on a whim will turn her quiet life inside out.


How does your self-portrait look? In the he-said-she-said retelling of the major points in your life how do you come across? We can’t help being the hero in our own story, though if we were more honest with ourselves we might better settle for the term protagonist. I’ve never been a fan of the term unreliable narrator. To me it’s more suggestive of a habitual or flagrant liar when the truth of the character generally proves to be far more human – someone who is prone to bend the truth to fit their worldview. For the subterfuge to work we as the reader need to buy in to the fiction so it helps a great deal if the character is likeable, someone we want to believe. The testament to how well-written The Last Words Of Madeleine Anderson is rests in the fact that Gabrielle Price, while not necessarily likeable, is whole-heartedly believable. There’s a level of honesty that’s brutal, almost self-destructive, and the glow of that openness spreads over everything we see. It’s beautifully done. No big pointy arrows or cabaret cloaks, just room for all these little doubts to grow in.

I love the make-up of the cast in Helen Kitson’s The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson. It’s a cast that’s as spare as the writing, but each character pulls their weight and if you’ve ever spent any time around writers, readers or book groups I’m sure there’ll be a flicker or two of the eyebrows as you recognise some old acquaintances! If you’re a fan of Barbara Pym I think you’ll tap into an extra layer of understanding as there’s a good deal of Pym referenced. If you’re not, I suspect you’ll be off to the library or bookshop to rustle up a copy of Excellent Women, as I’m about to.

Helen Kitson’s The Last Words Of Madeleine Anderson is a tense and claustrophobic study of obsession, isolation, blame and retribution. It’s a quiet explosion of a story, contained mayhem that unravels through cause and effect, with an ending that’ll leave you gasping for air.


The Last Words Of Madeleine Anderson will be published by Louise Walters Books on the 7th march 2019 ISBN:9781999780951

You can find Helen on Twitter @Jemima_Mae_7

My thanks to Louise Walters for allowing me to review this book.