July Book Club: Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman.

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This is a good holiday read to brighten up the damp July weather in rainy Lancashire. The story is set in Cornwall (though a few book clubbers agreed it actually felt quite American) just after the end of the Second World War. The Marvellous Ways of the title is an elderly lady living in a gypsy caravan by a Cornish creek, self sufficient and filled with wild, magical wisdom. A returning soldier falls into her path, ostensibly on his way to deliver a letter to a bereaved father, but through their relationship and the slow telling of Marvellous’ life his grief and guilt from the war are explored and he slowly heals towards a new life as Marvellous moves towards the end of hers.

It took me a little while to get into this story. It felt quite disjointed as bits of the story begin in different locations with very different characters and the lack of speech marks makes it an unconventional read. If it hadn’t been a book club book I think I would have put it to one side. Of course, the joy of being in a book club is that it persuades you to read things beyond personal taste and, in the case of this story, I’m glad I did push through. The story is lyrical with a generous sprinkling of ‘magical reality’. I was happy to believe Marvellous’ mother was a mermaid and that is is possible to find your true love’s face by cracking an egg white into a glass of water. The magical qualities of the story seem to stem from nature, cooking and the infusion of everything with love. All the characters in the story are interconnected by a web of apparent co-incidence that links them through Marvellous. It’s an enjoyable holiday read, though not a ‘keeper’.

Aspects of the blend of magic and reality reminded me of ‘Like water for chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel or one of Joanne Harris’ French novels, ‘Blackberry Wine’ or ‘Chocolat’, though Marvellous Ways is not quite as successful in blending magic and reality as these stories. Everyone in my reading group had enjoyed the story, which is unusual though a few had struggled to get into it a the beginning. It’s a book that does look at some dark and brutal aspects of life, including the war, but it moves forwards with hope and optimism. If you feel a little optimism is needed right now then perhaps this is a book to brighten the summer days?

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