Isa and May by Margaret Forster
|Isa and May by Margaret Forster|
|Genre: Literary Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: The influence of grandmothers both in history and in Isamay's life will bring secrets to the surface. A recommended read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 320||Date: February 2010|
|Publisher: Chatto & Windus|
Isamay is a would-be academic and she's writing a thesis about grandmothers in history, inspired, one suspects, by her own grandmothers, Isa and May. Her efforts are constantly diverted by the present needs of her grandmothers and the secrets about their pasts which rise to the surface when she least expects them. There's another complication too. Isamay is in her thirties and has never wanted a child, but reconsiders, despite the fact that her partner, Ian, is adamant that he doesn't want children. The more Isamay delves, the more she realises that there are secrets in Ian's past too.
With Margaret Forster you never doubt that you are going to get a gripping story and that it will be well-told. Isa & May lives up to expectation. The grandmothers were present at Isamay's birth and have been in competition for her affections ever since. They're polar opposites in many ways – Isa relies on the social graces, whilst May is down-to-earth if not down-at-heel. Isa is tall and elegant where May is plump and homely. Isamay looks like Isa - they're both tall and Isa is forever commenting that they share the same, rather unusual eye pigment, but even here there are secrets lurking.
There were times when I could have cried as I read the book and others when I laughed out loud. Margaret Forster has a singular talent for bringing to life her female characters which few other authors can equal. You won't be far into the book before you know Isa and May, before you picture them and their homes. You'll forgive their foibles and failings because they're so human. The male characters fade a little into the background – I was never entirely convinced by either Isamay's father or her lover, but the women more than made up for this. I loved Isamay's mother – an academic with little will to be either mother or child, but with strong common sense when it was required.
It's an intriguing story with the past – in the form of Isamay's thesis and the family secrets – sneaking into the present in unexpected ways. I had a nagging doubt about how loose the subject matter of Isamay's thesis seemed to be, but once I put that to one side there's a compelling story there with some twists which I wasn't expecting.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Mother's Tale by Camilla Noli.
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