Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review: The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty

I really liked Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot, so when I ran across this title, I figured I'd give it a go and I'm really glad I did! It's nowhere near as chick-lit-y as the cover implies, and it's actually got a pretty unique premise.

Scribbly Gum Island is off the coast of Sydney and the tiny island (8 houses) has long made its name in promoting the mysterious disappearance in the 1930s of a couple from one of the houses - who left their newborn infant, tea boiling on the stove, and a cake ready to be iced. The couple was never found but the two island teenagers, Connie and Rose (at the time, the only other people living on the island along with their father), raised the baby, winningly named Enigma. The mystery about her parents' unsolved disappearance turned into a money-making enterprise with tours, a cafe, souvenirs, and an annual anniversary bash. The island now is also home to Enigma's daughters and their children, which include Thomas. When Aunt Connie dies, she leaves her house to Thomas's ex-girlfriend Sophie, to everyone's shock, and it's from her point of view that we see most of the story, although the POV actually jumps around to most all of the characters at one time or another. Initially that was confusing, but the characters are for the most part so different and well-drawn (with the exception perhaps of Rose and Enigma) that it was very easy to tell them apart after just a short while.

Sophie is 39, successful in business if a little bored, and did debate marrying Thomas who was so perfect on paper - and her clock is very much ticking - but in the end she did the right thing (although as it was on the day he was planning to whisk her away for an island proposal that everyone knew about, her breakup went over even less well than most.) Connie admires her honesty and gumption, which is why she left her the house. So Sophie is trying to figure out how much the ticking clock means to her, still single and childless, how hard she's willing to pursue options in that arena, and what sacrifices she is (and isn't) wiling to make. Meanwhile, all the family members around her are going through their own growth and new understandings, involving everything from weight loss to post-partum depression to questioning sexual identity. The story stays light and airy despite some heavy topics (and the depression is not handled lightly, it is treated with respect and seriousness.) Sophie is a winning central figure, and many of the surrounding characters are quite likable as well. While many don't start out that way, by the end you do end up understanding all of them better, and understanding always helps likability.

One mystery was solved exactly as I had guessed, which I like (I hate a ton of red herrings and a solution out of left field) and at the very end there's a lovely twist I didn't see coming at all but liked very much. Also the solution to Sophie's issues is fairly novel, as was the reason for Thomas's sister's nastiness after the breakup. While this book certainly is lighter and sillier than Ms. Moriarty's more recent novels, it's a great read for someone who would like something lighter but not insubstantial. There's plenty to ponder and think about here, but it's wrapped in fairy floss (that's cotton-candy to us Yanks) and tied up with a mystery. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I bought this book at a used bookstore.

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