Saturday 23 September 2017

Review: Fiction: The Charm Bracelet by Melissa Hill

Hodder & Stoughton, £13.99, tpbk, 400 pages
Available with free P&P on www.kennys.ie or by calling 091 709350

Few other pieces of jewellery tell a story like a collection of charms. Perhaps it's because charms are so personal: a tiny talisman can be a declaration of love, a reminder of things past or a piece of insider knowledge between the wearer and giver.

You accumulate little charms from memorable points in your life, thus ending up with a wearable scrapbook on which you can gaze in times of need.

Holly O'Neill is sent one anonymously with a single charm -- an hourglass -- attached, just after her father's funeral. A little later another charm arrives, again anonymously.

The charms keep arriving at significant moments in her life. She adds some of her own, and her charm bracelet is her most precious possession.

But Holly doesn't lead a charmed life. She's a lonely single mother and doesn't have the closest relationship with her own mum.

She works in a vintage clothes shop and one day discovers a charm bracelet in the pocket of a Chanel suit that was handed in.

Holly immediately recognises another life's narrative spelt out through charms and sets off on a quest to find the owner.

This is also the tale of Greg Matthews, a Mr Big-type stockbroker with a lukewarm girlfriend and lukewarm life. You might be concluding that the lost-and-found charm bracelet will somehow bind Holly and Greg. You turn the pages wondering if their lives will collide and -- spoiler alert -- of course they do.

Melissa Hill is, without doubt, an accomplished writer. That said, her latest offering embodies every cliché you can imagine.

Like the legendary curate's egg, this book is good in parts, but never knowingly original. The very premise is time-worn.

All the clichés of a New York Christmas are here.

No city in the world is able to satisfy Yuletide enthusiasms as New York does.

There's ice skating beneath the giant Christmas tree at the Rockefeller Centre, Cary Grant waiting for Deborah Kerr at the top of the Empire State Building and Manhattan itself is a single, glittering bauble.

This is also a book about clothes, about how every garment has a story. Holly loves clothes that have a history and "had been worn when their previous owners fell in love, when they cried, and all throughout life's great adventures". Another recurring theme is that of empowering optimism: that if you align yourself to the benign flux of life, then your life can only go well. It's clearly modelled on Rhonda Byrne's Secret, and many of the characters believe in it.

Overall, Hill has put together something stylish and uplifting, a selection of swatches that somehow works as a whole.

Greg decides that "Love, laughter and great memories -- wasn't that what life was truly about". These things are what this book is about, too.

It's classic Hill: it's light, it's dark, it's predictable, it looks at women's lives. It's perfect froth for whiling away a few hours on the sun lounger.

Lorraine Courtney

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