A broken family is restored in gentle Sunday read
Fiction: The Wedding Promise, Emma Hannigan, Hachette Books, pbk, 460 pages, €11.99
From the bestselling author of The Perfect Gift comes a warm, Irish family saga centred on Shelly Dillon, her husband Gerry and grown-up children Jake and Leila. Before their marriage, Shelly and Gerry visited a stunning villa in the fictional Spanish town of Rondilla, near Malaga, where Gerry promised they would return after they wed.
As children, work and family responsibilities got in the way, 25 years pass and Shelly has all but forgotten the wedding vow. Following a shock turn of events, she ends up with the keys to the now dilapidated villa, and feeling aimless in her life, she decides to devote her energies to restoring it to its original glory.
It turns out that Shelly isn't the only one in need of a change - her son Jake, a successful pilot, has begun to doubt his career and his long-term relationship with surgeon girlfriend Fee. He resolves to take a break from it all and reassess his options in Spain, where he is soon joined by younger sister Leila, with a newborn son in tow. Leila, too, starts to question herself when her already-chaotic life as a new mum is rocked by an unexpected development.
Readers are likely to fall in love with Rondilla, as Shelly gradually revives the romantic villa, creating a perfect getaway in sunny Spain surrounded by her loved ones.
Hannigan, who has suffered an incredible 10 cancer diagnoses since 2007, offers an idyllic vision of a close-knit family. Yet, the novel's traditional views on men's and women's roles come across uncomfortably old-fashioned, as the story seems to punish women who opt for a career over stay-at-home motherhood until they realise what they 'really want' is what they've been most avoiding.
Small, seemingly throwaway moments leave a bad taste, such as a woman who lies about being sexually assaulted to weasel money out of a wealthy, upstanding man, or Shelly, who we are told is a competent, accomplished businesswoman, constantly giggling like a schoolgirl and needing a man to remind her she can sell the house she's owned for over 20 years.
The Wedding Promise is an easy read, occasionally disrupted by some jarring clunkers ("They had flown past each other in opposite directions. How typical was that! He hoped it wasn't an ominous sign for their future") and rather clumsy attempts to tackle online pressure, resulting in whole passages charting the characters' frequent social media updates, so that Facebook seems to emerge as a character in itself.
While it would be satisfying to have some more significant character growth, the plot moves along at a rapid pace, arriving at a sweet ending that is sure to please fans of Hannigan's other works.