This book had me howling with laughter in places and crying at the end
The Years She Stole by Jonathan Harvey was my first experience of the writer, and I have to admit I’d had the book around for quite a while before I picked it up.
Unlike Shirley, who reported in her recent book review that the blurb made her pick up the book, this blurb had the opposite effect on me. There was no real reason behind this, other than I just didn’t feel like it.
Did I want to learn about the lives of two women separated by years apart and what intertwined them? Well, no, not for quite a few months as it turned out. But I was so glad when I did.
First up, we meet Rachel who is trying to get home from Morocco as she has just found out her Mum is dying. Quite hard hitting for a book that promises humour on the front cover, then boom, we find out she is also pregnant, and single. However, there is no need to get the violins out just yet, for our heroine is a plucky girl.
Having been brought up by the tough Jane, in a small village, Rachel soon made her way away from her difficult relationship with her mother and towards the big city.
On returning home when her Mum is dying, she finds out that she had been kidnapped as a baby. Rachel was actually the famous ‘Baby Diana’ who had been stolen from her front garden, sparking a nationwide hunt.
Reeling from the shock, and beginning to understand her mother better, Rachel pieces together her backstory.
Running alongside Rachel’s discoveries, we have the story of Shirley Burke, a colourful character growing up in Manchester, trying to maintain a relationship with a married man. Oh dear.
All is not gold
The character of Shirley, I think, gives a good insight into how a regular person can go rogue. She’s a very young 18, trying to be a grown up and do grown-up things. However, her methods are skewed and more than once you wish she would have an adult to guide her.
If you haven’t guessed yet, Shirley turns out to be the woman who stole Rachel as a baby.
Shirley doesn’t even like babies, but her man, Doug, has broken up with her to go back to his wife. In, not even desperation, but a malicious move, she tells Doug he can’t leave because she is pregnant. However, she has been trying to get pregnant and failing. Her next best option is to steal a baby.
Stealing the baby (Rachel) has the knock-on effect that when Rachel is returned, her real Mum is so traumatised she takes her into the middle of nowhere, changes their names, and hides their identities. Unfortunately, the damage is done and she cannot bond with her daughter. The two then have 36 years of strained relationship, with the mum choosing not to tell Rachel the truth about her identity, and, dramatically, her father.
All ends well?
I laughed out loud at some of the parts with Shirley, and even popped straight to Amazon and ordered two books from the author to take on holiday. Can you give a better recommendation than that?
I wasn’t too keen on the ending, I have to admit. I’d bought into the characters, their morals and their integrity so it felt like the ending was a strange choice.
Compassion and emotions by the bucket load please
There wasn’t a great deal of compassion between the characters flying around this book. And, I think with the subject matter, it deserved it. Two of the main characters seemed to have achieved towards each other the compassion needed for this story, but it was washed over towards the end.
There’s also a heck of a lot of blame at the end, and I felt it was undeserved by that point, so I was shocked by the choice for it to end the way it did.
I guess what I learned is that this is not a book written about emotions, it is more a story detailing the events. As someone who likes her emotions by the bucket load, I would have enjoyed this booked a lot more if there’d be a softer side to it.
However, I really liked Harvey’s style of writing and the flashes of humour, and the story was different enough to stand out. Let me know if you read it, i’d love to discuss the ending with someone.