Sunday 25 June 2017

Single mum who confronts past as a way to change her future

For most women, the big Three-0 is as welcome as root canal treatment. For Pandora Schuster, however, hitting this dreaded milestone coincides with a number of life-changing and life-threatening events that threaten to send her into emotional freefall.

The single mum of one, a daughter called Iris, has her life thrown into turmoil when she finds out there is a 50-50 chance she has the BCRA1 gene, which would mean an 85pc chance of developing breast cancer – the disease that stole her mum from her when she was still a teenager.

Having her own mortality thrust into her line of vision so starkly forces Pandora to rethink certain aspects of her life and drag from the closet the skeleton she has been hiding there for almost 10 years.

Using her forthcoming thirtieth as a cover, she returns to Paris, the city where she met and fell in love with nine-year-old Iris's dad, Oliver Huppert. Almost a decade after running out on the Frenchman without a word, Pandora is determined to reunite her daughter with the dad she's never met.

Meanwhile, strait-laced, older man boyfriend Declan, his WAG-esque ex-wife Jessica and their spoilt brat pre-teen Rachel act as another destructive force pushing the overburdened Pandora ever closer to the edge.

Fans of Sarah Webb will need no introduction to Pandora and her family: she and her kooky sister Jules featured in the 2012 novel The Shoestring Club.

The bestselling author of more than 20 titles, both adult and children's, returns to the Dalkey siblings' lives, shifting the focus this time to Pandora.

There is little to dislike about The Memory Box, which Webb has imbued with just enough darkness to balance some of the more saccharine elements.

The character of Pandora has been fleshed out well, and hers is an authentic voice that keeps the reader firmly glued to the seat beside her on the emotional rollercoaster ride she experiences as she confronts her past and makes some life-changing decisions about her future.

A sub-plot involving a grieving mum suffering from agoraphobia revisits the dress-sharing sisterhood that Webb's last novel centred on – but it remains firmly on the margins of the much more engaging story of Pandora's struggle to get through to Oliver as she endures the agonising wait for her test results.

Delving headfirst into the emotive themes of motherhood, loss and long-lost loves, The Memory Box won't fail to tug at even the most taut heartstrings. Read it and, more than likely, weep.

Rachel Dugan

Irish Independent

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